Elmwood Park’s answer man retires after 29 years
Russell Parker, a longtime reference librarian, is retiring from Elmwood Park. He talks with a guest at his retirement party on June 1. | Rob Hart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 8, 2012 6:24PM
If you were looking for information — before and since Google — you went to one man for help.
Russell Parker was your answer man.
An institution in the Elmwood Park Public Library, the reference librarian estimates he’s been approached by 46,000 people at the reference desk.
He kept a daily tabulation of the questions people had and those that he worked to solve for the public.
“Just to be able to send them on their way with information that would answer a question or two,” he said. “Send them off with a smile on their face is very rewarding too.”
Parker, 62, is retiring after 29 years at the library.
Friends and co-workers through him a little party June 1 to send him off with warm wishes.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Parker said. “We have some nice young librarians coming up. It’s time for them to take over.”
Straight out of college, Parker began working for Elmwood Park Public Library. His love of history was the big draw.
“History steered me into the library field,” he said. “After completing a master’s degree in Library Science at Rosary (College) this is what I wanted to do and the rest is history.”
Parker had many opportunities to move on and move up, but he believed working the adult reference desk was where he belonged. He filled in as director on an interim basis at the library, but never wanted to stay there permanently.
“I was offered the director’s position, but I felt I always wanted to work closely with the people, helping them and doing the best I could down there,” he said. “I always felt my heart belonged with reference work.”
He remembers how far the library has come from using card catalogs to the internet.
“It was a lot different from way back when I started,” he said.
“We had two computers and all I had was a typewriter at my desk and we gradually move into the computer age,” he said. “Elmwood Park was one of the first three libraries in the state to offer internet access to the general public.”
“It was exciting times,” he said. “We all learned together and from scratch on how to use the computer for our library work.”
He also remembers when the current library was completed in 2002.
“We did a lot of work in preparation for the new building,” he said.
The thing he will miss the most is the impact he’s had on people. He will also miss co-workers and the feeling is mutual.
Dan Beringhele, reference librarian at the library, has worked with Parker extensively.
“Russ is the person who hired me six years ago,” he said. “He trained me.”
“Hopefully, we can carry on what he built in Elmwood Park,” he said. “He’s going to be missed by the staff and the patrons.”
Although he will not be on the library’s payroll, Parker, who lives in Chicago’s Galewood neighborhood, still plans to make his presence felt there.
“My plan and intent is still to be a volunteer at the library, volunteering several times a week,” he said. “It will keep me active and involved in the village still.”