Whether it’s managing book inventory or overseeing the Buy-a-Brick program, with her talent for bookkeeping and a built-in love for computer technology, Doris Andrews has been a gem of a town employee at Guilford Free Public Library (GFL) for nearly four decades. On July 15, Doris retired from the GFL staff after almost four decades spent working happily behind the scenes.
For Library Director Sandy Ruoff, moving ahead without Doris as senior administrative assistant at her side won’t be easy.
“She’s been here 38 ½ years and I’ve been here 39 ½—so it’s a wrench, in many ways,” says Sandy. “She’s just done so much for the library. The town has a lot to thank her for.”
Doris joined GFL after answering an ad for a typist position. At the time, she and her husband, Sheldon (now married 51 years) had just eased out of their landscaping business (the business had also expanded into masonry and driveway services). It was the late-1970s recession, and the town was feeling the pinch, but the library was able to hire through a federal program, the Comprehensive Employment Training Act, which funded jobs with trainable skills.
Doris really wanted that typist job, she recalls.
“I applied for it and I had to take a typing test, and it was with Edith” Nettleton, Guilford’s first librarian, Doris says. “I was so nervous, I came in and put my hands on all the wrong keys! I went home and cried.”
Nevertheless, Doris was hired (she notes she later found out no one else applied) and the rest, as they say, is GFL history. Much of that history involves Doris pushing the limits of learning the capabilities of the library’s latest and greatest technology. At first, the most technical thing she did was typing, cataloging, and running the mimeograph machine to make copies (Doris still mourns the loss of her favorite blouse, sprayed by purple mimeo ink). She then took on the library’s first copy machine and later, its first fax machine.
“I loved to have a challenge—I liked bookkeeping and typing and machines,” says Doris.
As technology advanced exponentially, Dorothy loved the challenge of keeping up. When GFL’s first personal computer (PC) arrived in the 1980s, Doris was the library’s go-to person.
“At one time, Doris was more skilled in the computer applications than anyone in the library. Not because others didn’t want to learn it, but because Doris just did it,” says Sandy.
During the 1980s and into the 1990s, “sometimes, the only person in the library who knew how to make a flyer was Doris! And we would try to teach other people, and we ultimately did,” Ruoff adds.
Doris remembers that first library PC literally came “bouncing down the back stairs” to reach her in the former office space in the library basement, where she also oversaw volunteers with the Friends of the Library, giving of their time to cover books or otherwise help out (Doris kept a log of which tasks each volunteer liked—or didn’t like—to ensure everyone enjoyed their shift).
Once GFL’s first PC was set up, Doris starting learning how to input information that ultimately brought the library’s inventory into the future.
“The library’s first introduction to computers was using them as a book circulation system,” says Sandy. “One of the things that had to happen was that the information from the books, which was contained on cards, had to be fed into the computer in a certain way to coordinate with standards used by about 10 other libraries. It was called ‘converting the books’ and Doris had to learn that.”
There were well over 100,000 books involved in the conversion.
Speaking of outrageous numbers, Doris has been involved with the Friends of the Library’s annual Book Sale since its inception, keeping track of all sales made during what is now a three-day, hugely successful fundraising event.
“Doris has been here for every Book Sale we have ever had. She maintains all the financial records for the book sales, which went from $500 the first year to now $40,000, and she manages all the money on that weekend,” notes Sandy.
For many years, the Friends put on a push to raise money to help with the GFL expansion (the project stretched from 1996 to 2008). Throughout that 12-year period, Doris was key to helping Sandy and the library assistant director keep track, organize, and move the project forward to its successful completion. She was involved with everything from supporting grant writing to tracking financials and working out of the converted warehouse space that was GFL’s temporary home during construction.
Then, just as the renovated and expanded GFL building was poised to open on Park Street, Doris suffered an unexpected setback—a stroke.
Luckily, her husband (who served as library custodian for 18 years, retiring in 2014) recognized the signs and rushed her to the Yale-New Haven Emergency Room on Goose Lane. Doctors later told them he saved Doris from serious stroke-related issues.
“Because he was so fast and knew what it was, that what’s helped me,” says Doris, who fully recovered and was back on the job within six weeks.
“We had her whole desk set up for her,” says Sandy of that reunion. “She still has the biggest office in the administrative area, although it doesn’t have any walls!”
Located just around the corner from GFL’s main level circulation desk, Doris’ desk was out of the view of most patrons, but she has been the first person to receive anyone coming back to the main office, and the point person for members of the public participating in the library’s continuing “Buy-a-Brick” fundraising campaign of many years. With just a few lines, each contributed brick honors a person or shows support for GFL with an inscription.
Doris says she enjoyed helping people get their sentiment across in just a few lines printed on bricks that are permanently installed in the library’s outdoor walkway.
“It’s a big job, but it’s fun, because people come in and they order a brick for so many different reasons,” says Doris. “There are times when the therapy sign goes over the desk!”
Doris announced plans to retire last summer, with December 2015 to be her last month. In October 2015, she had to undergo valve replacement heart surgery. Doris came back to work after eight weeks, during which time the assistant library director role changed hands. At Sandy’s request, Doris agreed to stay on a bit longer than originally planned, making her last day at the office July 15, 2016. Doris has also promised Sandy she will be at this year’s Book Sale in the fall to help a new bookkeeper transition with managing and tracking event sales.
Last week, Sandy and the library staff said farewell and thank you to Doris with a celebratory gathering. Leaving is bittersweet, but it’s time, says Doris.
“I worked with three great directors—the library has only had three, and I worked with all three of them,” says Doris. “I love my job because I like solving problems. I’m going to miss it, but I think it’s time to retire. Let the young ones come in—they have new ideas.”
Doris and Sheldon plan to “relax” in retirement, she says. The couple has lived in Guilford for 50 years, raising two sons here. They have eight grandchildren to visit and enjoy and also plan to head up the East Coast to visit northern points, because “the car only heads north,” Doris jokes.
On a serious note, Doris adds, “When I started here, I didn’t know anybody, and now, I can’t say that anymore. I know a lot of people now, between the public, staff, and [Library] Friends.”