Charter staff members celebrate 40 years

January 12, 2006, vol. 35, no. 1
By Diane Luckow

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When Del Laity and Sue Digney started working at the SFU library in 1965, they were both just out of high school. Recently, they celebrated 40 years' employment at SFU - the only two charter staff members left after 40 years.

Both women remember coming to work in dresses and skirts - no pants allowed. “All of the professors from political science would come over and tell us to wear jeans. Eventually we did and we've never looked back,” recalls Digney, whose duties in the library serials department are essentially the same as they were 40 years ago, except that most tasks are now automated and done online.

Staff in those days wore a hard hat to collect their morning coffee at a coffee truck outside until the cafeteria in the library's basement was completed.

Digney remembers an elevator in the academic quadrangle reserved solely for faculty. “Students protested that and stepped into it every chance they got,” she says. “It didn't take long before it wasn't for profs only.”

The library housed all of the university's administration offices and during the turbulent 1960s, both women remember frequent student sit-ins.

Laity, who catalogued books, remembers that library staff had rolling carts on which they kept important papers and invoices. When student protesters came marching into the building, “we had to push our work into the vault and lock everything down because they would set fires.”

Laity eventually took a keypunch course and became a keypuncher for academic computing, then moved to the finance department as a keypuncher. She next became a clerk in the ledger area, handling all transactions posted to the general ledger. “I had to do the corrections and check the reports,” she says. “In those days we didn't have computers on our desk - we had to do all the general ledgers ourselves. Everything was done manually.” She didn't have a computer on her desk until 1992. Today, Laity is still a data control clerk, but says her job changes completely every 10 years because of new computer systems.

Digney, who initially worked with just two others in the serials division to order, receive and process journals, now works with 25 colleagues in the same division. She is solely responsible for ordering all serials and has graduated to a window desk on the seventh floor with a wonderful view. “Everything is online now, so everything is much faster,” she notes. Print subscriptions that used to take three to six months to get to the shelves can now arrive in a month if they're online.

Both women sent their children to SFU daycare. Laity was among a group of employees who successfully protested against a daycare policy that didn't guarantee ongoing space for employees' children. Today, Digney's daughter Chelsea is a supervisor at the daycare where she grew up. Both women's children also attended SFU.

“In the early days, the campus was so radical, so vibrant and interesting,” recalls Laity. “For the first 10-20 years it was like a small community, like a family - that kept us together.” She recalls with fondness the early years in Strand Hall, which opened in 1971 to hold both the administration offices as well as the Registrar's office and student services. Everyone would go to the same lounge for coffee and lunch breaks and everybody knew everyone else. She particularly remembers former president Bill Saywell. “He was always very friendly toward you in the hall. He always stopped and chatted - it didn't matter if you were an executive or a file clerk.”

The highlights of 40 years' work at SFU are the people they've met and the relationships they've built, say both women. “There's such a variety and it's so multicultural,” says Digney. “I've learned a lot from all of the different kinds of people who've been here.” Adds Laity, “I'm not sorry to have spent my working life at SFU.”

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