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Waccamaw Library: Branch manager will retire after 26 years

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Success of the Waccamaw Library was not always considered to be a slam dunk.

Critics of the county’s plans to build a $3.5 million facility at Willbrook said libraries were dinosaurs heading for extinction, to be supplanted by Amazon and Netflix so people could stay at home.

The Waccamaw Library had one advantage over the dinosaurs: It evolved. Branch manager Carlethia Rudolph had been nudging the library toward becoming a hybrid community center since she arrived at the old library on Commerce Drive in 1991. “She’s the center of the spirit at the library,” county library director Dwight McInvaill said. “Every year she’s become stronger, wiser, more dynamic. She’s always changed for the better.”

With the Waccamaw Library operating at full steam, Rudolph has evolved again. She’s decided it’s time to retire. She will be leaving in February after 38 years with the county and 26 with the library system. There’s something about February for Rudolph. She went to work for the county treasurer in February 1980. Her wedding anniversary is in February. And the new branch opened Feb. 14, 2015. “I thought it would only be fitting that I leave in February,” she said.

Rudolph said she was thinking about retirement before the library’s big move to Willbrook. “It just didn’t seem like the right time,” she said. “Since I had such a history with the old library, I thought it only fair to myself to see this, to experience this before leaving. I never came here with the intention of staying. I just wanted to be a part of this.”

McInvaill gives her much more credit for the success of the new branch. “With the new library,” he said, “she came into her own.” The Waccamaw Library started out with only a director. Rudolph was the first employee. She remembers the library surrounded by woods that blocked the traffic noise from Highway 17. Now there are 15 full- and part-time employees infused with “high public service and professionalism,” McInvaill said.

Naturally, Rudolph is thinking about others as she leaves. “I wanted to leave at a good time for everyone,” she said. Her original end date would have corresponded with the end of the county’s fiscal year, not a good time for a new librarian to be coming on board, she said. The library is pulsing with summer reading programs and visitors. “People skills are so crucial,” McInvaill said. “Carl’s core strength is she’s a gracious individual.”

Rudolph sings the praises of her staff and the Friends of the Waccamaw Library, critical to the development of the new branch. “They have been nothing short of awesome, a source of support throughout my library life,” she said. “They have been here for us every step of the way.”

Rudolph lists all eight presidents of the Friends during her time as librarian: Charles Swenson, Lee Brockington, Linda Ketron, Jenny Smith, Cathy Filiatreau, Jean Cross, the late Kathy Gramet and Diane Stern. “It’s been a pleasure working with her,” Stern said. “She is very professional, very accessible and cares a lot about her staff and the community.”

Rudolph developed in herself the attributes she wanted in a staff. She put the patrons first, even if they got a little loud. “Most of our patrons at first were retirees, hard of hearing,” she said. “I think that’s what got the community atmosphere started. They couldn’t hear, and they spoke loudly so when they’d come to the door and see their golf partner they’d just start yelling to each other. That’s where we got the concept of being a community organization.”

The difference in the old library and the new, Rudolph said, is the diversity of today’s programming. There are still offerings for retirees, but the library reaches out to children and young adults through traditional books and technology. That’s the biggest growth area, she said. The library averages 800 new client registrations a month. “She works so exceedingly well with people of diverse backgrounds and ages,” McInvaill said.

The library has advertised the position, officially Branch Manager III. Managers of the branches in Andrews and Carvers Bay are level one. “The others are smaller,” McInvaill said. “The clientele at Waccamaw is so much more sophisticated.”

Rudolph is planning to get the family retirement organized. Her husband, Sam, has been retired as a Midway Fire and Rescue battalion chief for six years. “I’ve got a plan,” she said. “He’s been there long enough by himself.”

She’s also planning to read and travel. The Bahamas are on her list, as well as Charlotte, N.C., where her two children live.

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