By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Playing her part

Marcus Larson/News-RegisterReference Supervisor Alice Darnton assists patron Doris Baker at the McMinnville Public Library. When she’s not working, Darnton can be seen in Gallery Theater shows or at community activities.
Marcus Larson/News-Register
Reference Supervisor Alice Darnton assists patron Doris Baker at the McMinnville Public Library. When she’s not working, Darnton can be seen in Gallery Theater shows or at community activities.

Alice Darnton dived into community activities as soon as she arrived in McMinnville to take a job at the McMinnville Public Library.

She joined other librarians in events such as the library’s 100th anniversary party and the “Singing Suffragettes” performance during the celebration of the centennial of women’s suffrage in Oregon. She took part in a living history demonstration during Farm Fest at the Yamhill Valley Heritage Center and has participated in clogging activities at the McMinnville Senior Center.

She has become a major contributor in the McMinnville Kiwanis Club. She serves as a song leader, produces the club’s quarterly newsletter and helped redesign its website.

Being in Kiwanis is a wonderful way to learn about the community and be of service, she said.

Her job as a reference librarian — not to mention her position as reference supervisor, to which she was recently promoted — also is service-oriented.

Darnton, who grew up in Anacortes, Wash., said librarians answer all sorts of questions, from “Can you recommend a book?” to “How do I write a resume? to “Where can I find information about ... ?”

They oversee the bank of computers available to the public. In addition to helping users find what they’re seeking on the Internet, they teach basic computer skills, from using a mouse to getting a document to print.

They also assist with and teach the use of e-readers. “We do a lot of technical troubleshooting,” she said.

Librarians are called on to answer numerous questions about McMinnville. Local people come in wondering where they can send a fax, for instance, and visitors drop by looking for dining and lodging information.

“It’s a fun job,” she said, “and in some cases, it can lead to deeper conversation.”

She recalled how a question about a food product website led into a discussion about eating right. “Sometimes we’re human hyperlinks,” she said.

One thing Darton doesn’t do on the job is read, except for an occasional bit of professional literature.

“If we read, we read on our own time,” she said. “But we bring it to our work.”

She said she needs to have a broad knowledge of books so she can make recommendations or point readers in the right direction. But she often finds out about new books by reading synopses or reviews, rather than the whole text, just for time’s sake. She also shares information about books with other people in her field and reads blogs, such as the one maintained by the Oregon State Library.

When she has time for reading for pleasure, Darnton said she enjoys “terrible, terrible romance novels,” saying, “They’re so funny.”

She also likes a variety of other genres, including fantasy fiction and dystopian stories like “The Hunger Games.” And she’s hooked on Christopher Moore’s humorous books, including “Fluke” and “Sacre Bleu.”

Humor, whether in books or in social settings, is near and dear to her heart. She considers laughter “a way of relieving social awkwardness and tension, setting myself and others at ease.”

Darnton also enjoys making audiences laugh. “I’m most confident in my ability to be a silly pants,” she quipped.

The theater lover sought out Gallery soon after she moved here. She had been involved in theater in high school and had fond memories of being in “Godspell.”

“I enjoy performing in front of people,” she said, joking, “I’m an attention hog.”

While she describes herself as “very much an introvert,” she said playing a character allows her to get out of her shell. “It’s a way to disappear while being completely out there,” she said..

She soon was auditioning at Gallery. She was in her first show in December 2010, playing Rooster’s girlfriend in “Annie.”

She’s gone on to participate in another half a dozen productions, including “Lie, Cheat and Genuflect,” “The Nerd,” “Arsenic and Old Lace,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and several reader’s theater performances during the 2012 Summer Kaleidoscope event.

She played Gertrude McFuzz in “Seussical” last year. Like many of her roles, the part called for a mixture of comedy and music — another important part of her life.

She’s currently rehearsing for a musical, “Quilters,” which will open Feb. 22.

In addition to singing on stage, Darnton plays the violin. 

She first picked up the violin in fourth grade.

Her grandfather had played, she said, and he figured she could use his violin. But it proved too big for a child.

She tried clarinet the following year, but decided to stick with student-sized strings.

As a middle schooler, she joined the Fidalgo Island Youth Orchestra and started taking private lessons. She played a full-size violin with the orchestra and served as the orchestra’s concertmaster through high school.

“I made friends in the orchestra, and it helped me grow musically and in my dedication,” she said. “It made me want to apply myself and practice.”

She continued to play while working on her English literature degree at Western Washington University.

Although she wasn’t a music major, she went to master classes and practicums and played with a string quartet. In the latter group, she enjoyed working with the other players to create unique interpretations.

“Music adds so much to my life,” said Darnton, who also was in a small chamber orchestra while in graduate school at the University of British Columbia. “It’s an outlet for my creativity.”

In McMinnville, Darnton has fewer opportunities to play. She said, “I try to keep my skill level up, but it’s not as much fun by myself.”

Fortunately, she said, there are outlets: She often plays for Kiwanis, joining club pianist Mike Rice in accompanying the singing. She has played at library activities, and is scheduled to perform Saturday, Feb. 9, at a “Tea for Book Lovers” event.

“It’s another way to be creative and be part of the community,” she said.

Starla Pointer, who is convinced everyone has an interesting story to tell, has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996. She’s always looking for suggestions. Contact her at 503-687-1263 or


High tea to raise funds for foundation

Librarian Alice Darnton will play violin and sing Saturday, Feb. 9, at the "Booklover's Tea Time," a high tea fundraiser for the Library Foundation of McMinnville.

The event will run from 1 to 3 p.m. in the McMinnville Senior Center. It also will feature tea, scones and tea sandwiches, readings by authors, a silent auction and raffle.

The non-profit foundation supports the library by contributing to the collection and purchasing equipment, such as the bookmobile, a mounted ceiling projector for the Carnegie Room. The foundation also helped the library obtain the "Dreams" and "Bookworm" statues.

Tickets for the Booklover's Tea Time event are $25  for adults and $18 for children younger than 12. Tickets are available from the library and from Oregon Stationers.

For more information, call the library, at 503-435-5500.

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