Peter Romanov: Librarian, graduate and son

The well-known figure in ZSR balances a full work schedule with caring for his mother
Library Specialist Peter Romanov poses in between the stacks in ZSR. Romanov has worked at the library for over 25 years.
Library Specialist Peter Romanov poses in between the stacks in ZSR. Romanov has worked at the library for over 25 years.
Evan Harris

If you’ve ever visited Z. Smith Reynolds Library (ZSR), you’ve likely spotted the familiar and friendly pair of glasses sitting behind the circulation desk. 

For over 25 years, Peter Romanov has worked at the library, interacting with students from all walks of life. Peter Romanov, a fellow Deac, received a Masters in Arts and Sciences from Wake Forest in 2006. He sees his library specialist position as an opportunity to connect with others and considers himself a mentor figure not only to the students he employs but also for those who frequent the library. 

Yet, despite his approachable and carefree nature, he is no stranger to hardship.

After a fall in May of 2020, Peter Romanov’s mother, Ina Romanov, snapped her humerus in two, catapulting Peter Romanov into a state of emotional and financial turmoil. Although he was able to take care of her through the COVID-19 pandemic, he was placed in a difficult position when he returned to campus for work. Ina Romanov was also suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and a congenital heart disorder — conditions that require the kind of around-the-clock care Peter Romanov was unable to provide. 

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After a month full of prayers that her health would improve proved fruitless, Peter Romanov was forced to move his mother into assisted living. 

Due to the state of North Carolina’s limits on medicare funding, Peter Romanov has been responsible for a bill of roughly $5,000 a month to keep his mother in residency. Peter Romanov lost his father in 2013, and with his remaining family members contributing little to her cause, he has taken the brunt of the financial burden since her fall. He has since organized a Gofundme page, raising over $27,000 during her time in assisted living. Despite being a large sum, it is only a fraction of the $72,000 it costs him each year. 

“To be honest with you, strangers, you all, the Wake Forest community and friends of friends have actually helped me get this far to take care of her,” Peter Romanov said. 

Many students will recognize the familiar pair of glasses behind the circulation desk as they enter ZSR. (Evan Harris)

For the past three years, Peter Romanov has had to shift his focus toward financially supporting his mother in addition to working long hours at ZSR. 

The constant struggle to make ends meet has left a mark on him mentally. 

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it — it’s been a beast, and there’s a lot of times I feel like I’m not the same person I once was,” Peter Romanov said. “24/7 I’m thinking, ‘I gotta get money for mom; I’m running out of money.’”

However, Peter Romanov has found pockets of light through the dark times he’s faced recently. To him, Wake Forest is like a second home. When asked about what keeps him going, second to his mother was his career at ZSR — a path he never expected. 

The son of Ukrainian immigrants, Peter Romanov was born in Rochester, New York, before he moved to San Antonio, Texas, at 8 years old. He moved again during his senior year of high school to Clemmons, North Carolina. 

He commuted as a part-time student at High Point College (now High Point University), working full-time for a marketing research firm to pay his way through school. Between classes, he found solace while studying in the library. According to Peter Romanov, living off-campus prevented him from making any deep connections with other students in college — for Peter Romanov, making the most of his time in the library made up for this. 

After graduating in 1996, he continued his stint in marketing, realizing three years later he was unhappy with his job. An advertisement in a local newspaper prompted him to apply to an open position at ZSR, and he felt an urge to return to a place that he felt happiest. 

“I was 28 when I started, and it just brought me back to that time where I’m around education and knowledge and all these different people of different ages and different walks of life,” he said. “I was like, ‘Okay, I think I like this.’”

Fast forwarding two and a half decades, Peter Romanov has enjoyed every minute as a library specialist. He assists students in locating library resources and research materials, supervises staff, oversees hiring and payroll and is also responsible for the ZSR film collection. 

“This is a job, yes, but it’s a job that I love.I’ve made a lot of lifetime friends with students who have worked for me and some who have not. I really like learning from you all.” (Evan Harris)

Junior Celina Seo, a student employee at ZSR, has known Peter Romanov over the course of her year-and-a-half employment. 

“I think he is very human,” Seo said. “That’s what I admire most about him. He’s like the first thing you see when you walk in, and it kind of makes people’s days.”

The ability to build these relationships within the student body is his favorite part of the job — relationships that help him through the constant stress of his ailing mother. 

“It really grinds down my anxiety, and I feel so much better when I’m here,” he said. “I feel more hope[ful] and more relaxed.”

This month, Ina Romanov was approved at a skilled nursing facility but is still awaiting a second approval from the state to receive medicaid funding. She is set to move later in February, potentially putting an end to the hefty bills covered almost completely by her son. 

While good news lies on the horizon, Peter Romanov is still skeptical about the near future.

“A little bit of it is if folks will take care of her correctly,” he said. “But a lot of it — the other 90 percent, you know — [is] is she going to adjust? Will she be frightened or confused? Will she feel abandoned?” 

Whatever decision awaits Peter Romanov, he is confident that his job in ZSR will continue to provide him solace.

“This is a job, yes, but it’s a job that I love,” he said. “I’ve made a lot of lifetime friends with students who have worked for me and some who have not. I really like learning from you all.”

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