Community, Library, Local, Park Forest

Park Forest Library Director Osuch Retiring

Park Forest, IL—(ENEWSPF)—After a long career serving south suburban library patrons, Barbara Osuch, the Park Forest Public Library Director, announced her retirement effective July 1.

Barbara Osuch, Osuch, wearing glasses
Barbara Osuch is retiring after 20 years of leading the Park Forest Public Library. (Photo PFPL)

A Lifetime of Preparation

Barbara Osuch is a native of the Buffalo, NY, area. She began her library career as a part-time page in the central library of Buffalo. There, she retrieved books from the library stacks. She received her degree in English while attending the University of Buffalo.

Her next stop was the University of Illinois in Champaign, where she received her Master’s in English. She then taught writing classes as an adjunct faculty member at Governors State University and Chicago State University.

Returning to her library roots, she worked part-time at the Palos Heights Library. The position quickly became a full-time position.

During her time in Palos Heights, Osuch participated in a two-year program through the University of Illinois. This enabled her to receive a master’s in library science. In doing so, she committed to working in the Illinois library system for two years following graduation.

Establishing herself as a leader

Her next stop was the position of Director at the Steger-South Chicago Heights public library.

When she arrived, the library was struggling financially with the failure of several tax referendums. Osuch coordinated a fundraising effort that sent old card catalog cards to noted authors and celebrities for the use of their signatures for an auction to help fund a new children’s wing at the library. The project was a great success, raising over $10,000 by auctioning cards signed by Bill Gates, Sophia Loren, Luciano Pavarotti, Stephen King, Danielle Steel, and others.

The Director of Library position became available in 2003. Building upon her success at Steger, Osuch applied for and received the Director’s position in Park Forest.

Transforming the Park Forest Library

Upon her arrival in Park Forest, Osuch began transforming the library into a more modern, community-focused facility.

“The library was stuck in a bit of a time warp. It was not very customer-friendly, and some of the staff had some resistance to automation and computers.”

She noted that the changes she introduced over the years would not have been possible without the strong support and guidance of the library board.

Osuch guided the library as it became a “people space” with new programs, activities, and book talks. She aimed to make the library “less transactional, and more transformative.”

Osuch points to the library consortium system as a development that allows it to expand its capabilities by sharing resources. “We can get anything you want from any library in the system.”

COVID brought new challenges

While the COVID pandemic brought new challenges to the library, Osuch thinks it also brought about innovations. The opening of a drive-up window allows patrons to use many of the library services without the need to physically enter the library. This saves patrons time and allows easier access for physically disabled patrons.

In addition, the pandemic accelerated the introduction of the library’s virtual programs, such as “Chair Yoga” and the Illinois Libraries Presents series, which enable patrons to participate from their homes using Zoom.

When asked about library improvements that she is most proud of, Osuch pointed to the butterfly garden area near the library’s front entrance. The garden was financed by a $22,000 donation from the estate of a long-time patron. After speaking with the donor’s family and learning of her love for gardens and butterflies, Osuch said it was clear how the money should be used.

What the future holds for the library and her

Osuch is optimistic about the library’s future and encourages the next director to be a good listener and open to change. “What makes libraries great is that they are always evolving. They should never be stagnant.”

Osuch is married and lives in Steger. Her son is a high school teacher in Valparaiso, Indiana, and her daughter attends college in New Jersey. She plans to remain in the area after retirement and focus her new “off-schedule” time on writing, gardening, walking, and collage art.

Mary VanSwol, an 18-year library employee, will be the interim director until the library board names a permanent replacement. The next board meeting is on July 18.