The date is August 15, 1965. A passionate young woman – Sister Mary Dorothy Neuhofer – is starting her first day as Reference Librarian at Saint Leo College. She is thrilled to begin working with Saint Leo’s community; she is ready, willing, and dedicated to perform her best and help the community grow. However, with a small library and an ever-increasing need for resources and space in the face of Saint Leo College’s inevitable expansion, this young woman knows her journey there will not be an easy one.
The date is August 15, 2015. 50 years since her first day at what was once known as Saint Leo College, Sister Dorothy Neuhofer, Order of Saint Benedict (O.S.B.), Ph.D., takes a seat in her private office – the office of the University Archivist and Special Collections Librarian – in the Daniel A. Cannon Memorial Library: Saint Leo University’s ultimate resource center. The seat she takes – a hand-crafted wooden rocking chair – is engraved with the words “Saint Leo College: In Appreciation of Thirty Years of Dedicated Service;” and outside her office: thousands upon thousands of books. With an accomplished smile on her face, Sister Dorothy confidently asserts that “you’d better believe” that, for 50 years, she has never stopped standing by Saint Leo’s side.
Since 1965, Sister Dorothy has helped build the Saint Leo library in six positions: Reference Librarian, Catalog Librarian, Director of Reader Services, Library Director, Director of Library Services, and Archivist and Special Collections librarian. Even after 50 years of service, Sister Dorothy still remembers her first day as Reference Librarian.
“I can tell you the exact date because I was furious that day: August 15, which was (and still is) the Feast of the Assumption. It was the day that we weren’t supposed to be working; but it was the day the monks were starting their new year. So, I had to show up – and I did,” said Sister Dorothy.
Regardless of her true feelings that day, Sister Dorothy did not keep herself from enjoying her new position and providing Saint Leo College’s library with her fullest potential: a potential first discovered when Sister Dorothy was only four years old. Sister Dorothy developed her own appreciation for books and reading while going on trips to the library of the Saint Leo Abbey with her father, a German immigrant with a penchant for reading in both English and German. Fascinated by the euphoric nature of the library as well as her own father’s interest in books, Sister Dorothy’s newfound passion found its way into her studies, where it flourished.
“When I was in grade school, we had a library in the classroom, although really, all it was just a small shelf of books; I read them because I was too smart for the rest of the kids – I didn’t have enough to do. So when I had all of my work done, I would get some books to read,” said Sister Dorothy.
As a Reference Librarian first, Sister Dorothy said she could perform in a manner she described as “double-dipping,” allowing her to assist the library and its visitors through reference services half of any given day, and cataloging services the other half of the day.
“When I got the combination of reference and cataloging – that’s a perfect combination – I got to talk to the people who were using the library…and teach people how to put entries in the catalog,” said Sister Dorothy. “Being a reference librarian was ideal…because you had direct contact with [the students and staff].”
Sister Dorothy’s tenacity in assisting others transferred well into several of her next positions – including Director of Reader Services, Library Director, and Director of Library Services – as they allowed her to be in charge of circulation and reference operations in the library. Under her leadership, Saint Leo College’s library had expanded tremendously, despite the library’s small size.
Unfortunately for Sister Dorothy and the library as a whole, the library’s small size would lead to problems in the college’s future. Sister Dorothy’s time as Library Director in particular – which began in the year 1975 – was near the high point of this problem, in what Sister Dorothy described as being “one of the more interesting parts of [her] 50 years.”
“Over time, the library got smaller and smaller because the school’s population grew. By the time we got into the 70s, Father Fidelis [the first Library Director] was already writing a letter to the president saying that we needed more library space – and it didn’t happen; and it didn’t happen,” said Sister Dorothy.
The small size of the library was, at this time, a consistently ignored problem for the campus and a major problem for the library; according to Sister Dorothy, there was so little room in the library that surpluses of books where placed anywhere they would fit.
“[Because the library was so small,] we had books in Lewis Hall, in the basement of Saint Francis, in Saint Leo Hall, and even more in storage. That’s how cramped we were,” said Sister Dorothy. “The original building…was built for a student body of 300 or 400.”
Even more, the small size of the library eventually became a detriment to the College itself. In 1980, Saint Leo was the subject of an accreditation visit; if the accreditation was approved, it would turn Saint Leo into a respected, reputable, and more widely-known college. Unfortunately, one thing was stopping Saint Leo from being awarded the accreditation: the library’s small size, which undoubtedly could not sustain the college’s perpetually growing populace.
“The library staff wrote the library report [during the accreditation visit], and in that report, we stressed that we needed more space in the library…The people on the committee for the accreditation review agreed with us. They made a recommendation that the college had to increase the library space, and that if the college didn’t do it, it would lose its accreditation. Well, things began to happen fast after that,” said Sister Dorothy with a smile.
With the expansion of the college’s library and the accreditation of the college itself hanging in the balance, a committee for a library expansion project was created – and Sister Dorothy readily became a chairman for the committee. Sister Dorothy admits that she believes her time as a member of this committee, as well as her duty to help plan the expansion of the library and achieve accreditation for the college, was very fulfilling to her. Considering both her pursuit of her Ph.D. at the time, as well as the amount of work that needed to be done in comparison to when she had first started working at Saint Leo College, it was a difficult task.
“When I first arrived, Father Fidelis showed me the books and the library, and as I was looking…I thought to myself: ‘And they think they’re going to have a college?’ They had only 14,000 books – which is peanuts. [Now,] because the books were very few and the college was very anxious to have early accreditation, there was a challenge to add books very quickly. I would catalog about 500 books a month,” said Sister Dorothy.
Critical difficulties arose for a second time when plans for the expansion could not go forward due to a lack of funds. According to Sister Dorothy, the board’s lack of insight into this situation made her furious, as she understood the value of the possible accreditation and the expansions she and the library committee had planned; she also didn’t approve of the board not having a “plan B” if something like this were to happen. Fortunately for the library, however, someone else was willing to step in and help, ending an essential chapter of Sister Dorothy’s 50 years and earning the accreditation of the college.
“The person who saved the day was the wife of Daniel A. Cannon. He had died, and she wanted to give enough money to the library in honor of him. That’s why it’s called the Daniel A. Cannon Memorial Library,” said Sister Dorothy.
Today, Sister Dorothy, despite the incredible effort she and her fellow librarians have placed into expanding the library, believes that more expansion of the library, particularly in the face of the current University’s expansion, is desperately needed once more.
“It [the library] really needs to be expanded again; when we finished the plans for it…we figured it’d be good by the year 2000, which was true – today, we don’t have the kind of room that we should have,” said Sister Dorothy.
While the expansion of the library was, according to Sister Dorothy, “a significant achievement” and a crucial component in her 50 years at Saint Leo, her interactions with people – including students and staff – were what ultimately kept her going for 50 years. A kindred spirit, Sister Dorothy found a natural peace in helping others, learning from them, and teaching them. Sister Dorothy said that, before she started working at Saint Leo College, she was asked by the library director of the time, Father Fidelis, if she “had any preferences or if [she] cared about what [she] did.” Her answer to him was: “I don’t care what I do, as long as I got to work with the people.”
Following the library’s long-awaited expansion, Sister Dorothy became a Reference Librarian for a second time, with a softer workload allowing her to work on her dissertation. After successfully earning her Ph.D. and once again helming the library as Library Director until 2006, she became the University Archivist and Special Collections Librarian: her current title.
Aside from her positions in the library’s arduous yet fulfilling 50-year history, Sister Dorothy has been an important asset in many other endeavors. Her love for books guided her when she became a principle for a school and built a library within that school in the 1960s; she started and became the first editor of Saint Leo College’s Academy Newspaper, Holy Name Academy; she assisted greatly in providing off-campus Saint Leo military bases and schools with libraries; and even created the idea for library instruction, the program in which one course hour a year is dedicated to teaching its students how to use the library and its resources. In short, it’s clear that Sister Dorothy has had a remarkable 50 years with Saint Leo.
Currently, in addition to being the University Archivist and Special Collections Librarian, Sister Dorothy is also in charge of the Marien Library, the library at the Monastery on Saint Leo University’s main campus. Specifically, Sister Dorothy oversees the library’s growth and book collection, which has been a challenge since the Monastery’s relocation. This secondary position – which has required the help of several people alongside her – gives Sister Dorothy the belief that she will need at least another year or two at the University before she retires.
“I would like to leave the stuff in the archives in pretty good order; right now, it’s not in pretty good order. In my thinking, it would be stupid to retire from here now, because if I’m not here, then I’m not getting the advantage of keeping up with what’s going on here; [that’s important,] since the [Marien] Library is built upon what we do here,” said Sister Dorothy.
Sister Dorothy’s impact on both Saint Leo’s community and its library is extraordinary; contributing 50 years’ worth of service to Saint Leo, she is not only one of the longest-running members of the community, but one of its best. Before she leaves, Sister Dorothy wants to make sure everything is in good order – to ensure that her library will always be organized, easy to use, and above all, helpful to its visitors.
“My limit is two more years after this. I hope I make it – because I don’t like to leave messes behind,” said Sister Dorothy.