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A life among the books

Rea Andrew stresses library's enduring importance as she retires after nearly three decades of service

The Newberg Public Library was on the cusp of change when Rea Andrew started working there in December 1989.

The library had just gotten an addition that had dramatically increased its capacity, was in the midst of moving its collection database from cards to computers and had only two full-time staff members when Andrew came on board as a part-time administrative assistant.

While the library's collection and staff has more than doubled during that time, Andrew's workload has arguably increased more than that as she gladly tacked on more and more responsibilities over nearly three decades. GARY ALLEN - Rea Andrew started as an administrative assistant at the Newberg Public Library in 1989 and since then has assumed many duties to become an integral part of the operation.

Asked why the library is important, she replied "it's our only hope" with a jovial guffaw.

"Libraries broaden your mind, give you access to all information and everything that's out there, real and not. They encourage you to think and to dream," she said. "Libraries don't direct your mind, they just show you all the possibilities and you can take it wherever you want."

Andrew retired in February as the library's support services coordinator after 27 years of amassing responsibilities and becoming a key coordinator of the volunteers that are vital to the institution.

Her departure was such a blow that it prompted the Newberg City Council to approve a formal proclamation commending her and thanking her for all of the roles she filled on behalf the library and her service to Newberg overall, including her 20 years recruiting and training volunteers.

Those roles included her knowledge of the inner workings of the library, her skill in mending materials, her leadership in recycling and environmental conservation, her leadership on the Oregon Library Association and her expertise on the 105-year-old Carnegie building.

"Rea's ability to always find whatever we needed and to figure out how to make anything work will be sorely missed," said Mayor Bob Andrews, reading the proclamation Feb. 21 during a council meeting. "We express appreciation to Rea Andrew for her service and dedication and to extend to her sincere best wishes for a long, happy and productive retirement."

Now 66 years old and a resident of Newberg, Andrew started out looking for a flexible part-time job she could work while her three teenage children were in school.

She wasn't looking for just any job, though, and had her eyes set on the library, being passed over for the administrative assistant job the first time she applied and having to wait two years for the job to open up again – at which point she was finally hired.

Her job was initially secretarial and she supported the library director, ordered office supplies and made sure bills were paid. Over time, however, she took on more jobs, including assuming management of the library's more than 200 periodicals.

"It was a matter of when something came up that needed doing and it wasn't anybody else's job or nobody had the time or the inclination to do it, I'd say 'well, I can do that,'" she said with a laugh, noting that she was also offered some roles and responsibilities. "And so I just kind of picked things up along the way."

Eventually, Andrew took on coordinating volunteers. She explained that when she first started, staff members would typically only be around while the library was open and it would be up to volunteers to do most the morning prep work beforehand.

Andrew filled the role of overseeing their efforts, calling it "one of the major bonuses" of her time working at the library, noting that they are all ages and come from all walks of life and do nearly all of the shelving and processing of incoming book and donations – work that Andrew said is vital to all libraries.

She pointed out that the Newberg Library Friends' book sales and fundraising efforts have been underwriting the costs of all programming at the library except staff every year for 30 years.

"They're an amazing bunch of people," she said. "They're generous and dedicated … they give so much of their time to the library and they do it willingly."

She added that volunteers show another vital aspect of libraries that is often overshadowed by books – the library's capacity to bring people together.

"The Newberg library is a real gem within our community and it serves a far greater purpose than books," she said. "People of all ages and types frequent the library and benefit from it and have the opportunity to exchange ideas and information with one another on completely neutral, non-judgmental ground – that's a biggie."

Andrew's legacy at the library includes the impact she's had on her daughter, K'Lyn Hann, who has now been working with young-adult section and technical services for about 15 years.

"Working at the Newberg library… it's been a bonus to my life," Andrew said. "To be able to work at something that contributed in a positive manner to your community – it doesn't get any better than that."