Bruce Brigell, Senior Reference Librarian
February 8, 2018
A lot has changed in the library world since Bruce Brigell began working here. Our senior reference librarian, Bruce joined our staff in 1992. CD-ROM computers were hot, and the internet was scarcely available to the public. High school and college students frequently sought assistance from reference librarians. “Students were totally dependent on the library—they couldn’t work remotely with their college resources,” recalls Bruce. Even though technology continues to change, many people—maybe not quite as many students—make it a point to ask for help at the reference desk. “There are times where Siri is not going to answer your questions as well as we might be able to,” says Bruce.
Within minutes of starting a shift at the Reference Desk one recent January afternoon, Bruce switched from helping a patron with a question about obtaining a travel visa to helping a couple look for books about P.T. Barnum. Bruce believes it’s an inherent curiosity about the world that drives him to delve into just about any question or task offered by patrons and staff. And he’s OK with not initially knowing the answers. “You have to have an adaptable mind and be able to say, ‘I don’t know anything about that—tell me a little something about it and I can take you from there,’” explains Bruce. “And then people think you know everything, but you don’t—you just know how to run with what they give you.”
As Bruce’s longtime co-worker, adult services manager Lynnanne Pearson says, “Bruce has an incredible depth of knowledge, and what he does not know, he knows where to look to find the answer. He knows just the right database, the right Web resource and, sometimes, the right person to find the answer to the questions.” Reference librarians like Bruce are trained to quickly find information from a wide range of sources and answer even the trickiest questions. Bruce has just been at it for longer than most.
Ask around and a common response about Bruce’s work and the way he carries himself at the library is how well we works with people. “Sometimes I feel like it’s not his job, but he goes out of his way to do things,” says Sadruddin, a regular patron.
“Bruce is great with patrons and staff alike,” says Lynnanne. “No matter the question, their skill, or patience level, he always maintains a professional and calm demeanor. He never judges patrons or staff on the questions they ask.”
Now entering retirement after 25 years working here, Bruce’s departure leaves a void. Lynnanne adds, “Although I know we will all miss his reference skills, I truly believe that it is his demeanor and reassuring presence that will be most missed.”
The good news for Skokie is that Bruce will be sticking around as a volunteer to run the Great Decisions discussion group once a month. The group is focused on digging into news stories from around the world and is often based on the Foreign Policy Association’s discussion topics. It has been a staple of adult programming for years. “You feel like you’ve invested a bit of yourself in it and it gives some depth when you hear a story about something you’ve studied in Great Decisions,” says Bruce of the discussion group. “It adds depth to understanding what’s going on in the world.”
In retirement, Bruce plans to help his wife with raising political awareness about certain candidates, improve bass guitar skills, exercise at least three times a week, and dig into some video projects like revisiting his father’s old 8mm film footage.
“I’m not particularly worried about keeping busy,” says Bruce. “I don’t think I’ll be watching game shows on TV (intentional pause)… too much. I’m not saying I’m not going to watch TV, but I’m not going to be sitting at home watching garbage unless I want to (laughing), 'cause I’ll be retired.”