Library Director Sandy Dow has kept a careful watch over the Upper School (US) Almy Library for 25 years. This year, she will retire from her position as librarian, research consultant, advisor, noise policer, and resident baking legend.
In her many roles in the library, Ms. Dow said conversing with students has been her favorite part.
“Adolescents are a funny group,” she said. “They can drive me absolutely batty, but there are so many kids here who are not just bright, but really good people, and people I enjoy getting to know.”
When Ms. Dow first began at the school, the library still used a physical cataloging system with a card catalogue: a large set of drawers organized alphabetically and by genre. Ms. Dow was responsible for filing the half dozen cards for each book.
“It was a pain in the neck to use, even though we were used to it,” she said. “When we finally got rid of that, it was a very happy day.”
The card catalogue took up precious physical space in the library as well, Ms. Dow said. When she became library director in 2011, she lobbied for a new layout and decided with the other librarians to make the circulation desk about three quarters of its former size and move it from what is now the reference section to its current location. This made more space for student seating.
“Our goal was to make [the library] a place where everyone felt welcome. This is a community space, and a safe space,” she said.
History Teacher Louise Makrauer, who began at the school the same year as Ms. Dow, said she appreciated the changes Ms. Dow helped make in the library.
“It’s a happier place,” she said. “Under Ms. Dow, it has become a lively place of learning rather than a somewhat static place to do research.”
Math Teacher and Student Council Faculty Advisor Peggy Payne, also a 25-year veteran on the faculty, said Ms. Dow’s consideration of technology in the library led to change in how the school viewed cell phones.
“She forced the rest of us to start thinking about classroom rules on technology use,” Ms. Payne said. “Allowing phones around school has its positives and negatives, but she is always more about doing the right thing than the easy thing.”
Assistant Librarian Wendy Wunder praised Ms. Dow for encouraging students to read for pleasure by organizing large-scale library events.
In 2017, Ms. Dow organized an all-school read of a short story and poems by Naomi Shihab Nye, whom she then invited to speak at the school. In 2018, Ms. Dow also worked with Latin Teacher Walter Young to host Madeline Miller, author of The Song of Achilles and Circe, for an interview and question-and-answer session.
Beyond the library, Ms. Dow had a hand in shaping the current sophomore guide program when in 1998 she worked with Ms. Payne and Science Teacher Leah Cataldo to create a mentorship program for female students and to create leadership opportunities for sophomores. She worked with Drama Teacher Mark Lindberg as the costume designer for school productions until 2001, which she said was one of her fondest memories at the school. In her role as Senior Spring Project (SSP) Committee Chair from 2001 to 2013, Ms. Dow also wrote the first SSP handbook, created the SSP fair—a chance for seniors to share their projects with their classmates—and changed the seniors’ weekly Friday meetings from 8:00 a.m. to midday.
“I thought we should make the meetings worthwhile, so that’s when we started the lunch meetings with programming like speakers and talent shows,” Ms. Dow said.
Additionally, Ms. Dow brought the school the popular SSP self-defense course for senior girls after hearing from English Teacher Jean Klingler about a similar program at another school.
“I thought [the course] was really cool and something that’s necessary in this day and age since sexual assault on college campuses had been in the news,” Ms. Dow said.
Library Intern Lily Brown ’19 said she appreciated Ms. Dow’s willingness to help students.
“She is perpetually warmhearted and always looking to help students reach their full potential,” Lily said. “Not to mention her delicious baking—if you have not had Ms. Dow’s baked goods, you have never experienced truly delicious food.”
Julie Peng ’17 also lauded Ms. Dow’s baking.
“Those who are unfamiliar with her might know her as the library rule enforcer, but anyone who talked to her knows about the special sort of kindness she radiates,” Julie said. “For my birthday, she once baked me a cupcake as she knew how much I loved her baking.”
In a 2013 impromptu tribute speech to Ms. Dow during her Speechwriting and Public Speaking elective, Lise Guerriere ’12 described watching Ms. Dow, her advisor, insist to former Academic Dean Ross Clark that she be allowed to attend a semester away that would not fulfill the school’s United States history requirement.
“It was like watching a lion go up against a mama bear,” Lise said. “It was the kind of love you don’t find often in a teacher.”
Sophie Jean ’13, also Ms. Dow’s advisee, said Ms. Dow helped her through every aspect of high school.
“She’s the one person you want in your corner. When it’s the tenth round and your jaw is broken, make sure Ms. Dow is the one squirting water into your mouth and dabbing at your bleeding eye,” Sophie said. “You have an almost guaranteed win.”
Librarian Laura Duncan said that during the five years she has worked with Ms. Dow, she has made the library a warm, friendly work environment.
“Ms. Dow is an institution here, and the community will feel different without her,” Ms. Duncan said. “I hope that in spite of the fact that her laughter won’t be here, we can still imbue the library with that spirit—that it’s a happy place to be.”