Library director prepares to sail into retirement

By Mary Hood
Fairhope Courier Intern
Posted 6/21/07

FAIRHOPE — After nearly a quarter of a century of being the Fairhope Public Library director, Betty Suddeth is stepping down to enjoy a retirement filled with travel plans and still, lots of reading.

She’s loved libraries and has been a …

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Library director prepares to sail into retirement


FAIRHOPE — After nearly a quarter of a century of being the Fairhope Public Library director, Betty Suddeth is stepping down to enjoy a retirement filled with travel plans and still, lots of reading.

She’s loved libraries and has been a frequent visitor to libraries for as long as she can remember, Suddeth said.

It all began when Suddeth started working for a school library in Birmingham. She then moved from Birmingham to Fairhope and began her education to prepare her take on more responsibility as a librarian.

She completed two years at Faulkner State Community College and then went on to the University of South Alabama where she received her bachelor in science for educational media.

While at South, she worked at the library as a circulation clerk. After graduation, she moved to Robertsdale and worked there for two years as the assistant director at Baldwin County Library Cooperative.

When the position as director of Fairhope Public Library became available, Suddeth applied and moved back to Fairhope. Her first day on the job was Dec. 1, 1982.

Since then, Suddeth has seen many changes. During her watch, the library has moved two times: from Summit Street to North Section Street to Fairhope Avenue.

“We’ve gone from a building built in 1908 and now in 2007, almost a hundred years later, we have a new library, which I think is quite a journey,” Suddeth said.

The new library is something Suddeth said she is very glad to be a part of. She was planning on retiring about a year and half ago, she said, but with delays in the library being built, she stayed on to see it come to fruition.

“It’s phenomenal,” Suddeth said describing her feelings about the new library. “We are just going around with our mouths open.”

In the five months the library has been open, Suddeth said membership has increased by 2,000.

“We now have more members than the population of the city,” Suddeth said.

She said not just the membership has increased but also circulation, and programs have seen large increases as well.

“We understood this was going to happen,” Suddeth said. “We have been overwhelmed by support.”

Many people believe the library wouldn’t be at its current state had it not been for Suddeth.

Sherry Sullivan, director of senior services at the James P. Nix Center, said she has lived in Fairhope all her life, and that Suddeth is the only librarian she can remember.

“She certainly as brought the library where it is today,” Sullivan said. “(She’s) leaving a great legacy for the future of Fairhope.”

Sullivan has recognized the success of the new library, and she believes it is a great asset to Fairhope. She also recognizes Suddeth’s hard work and dedication.

“Mrs. Suddeth has certainly done a great job since she’s been here,” Sullivan said.

Ilse Krick, assistant director of the library, also said Suddeth has done a great job during her years as director.

“She has brought the library from the 20th century into the 21st century,” Krick said. “She saw when the libraries were still stamping books by hand and the old card catalogs.”

Suddeth recognized the need for new technology in the library, Krick said.

“She’s had and has tremendous foresight and didn’t hold back,” Krick said. “She didn’t keep Fairhope library in the so-called Dark Ages.”

Krick said that while Suddeth modernized the library, she still was able to maintain the hometown feel of the library and the importance of books.

“In that respect (she) has kept Fairhope library on the cutting edge, and has kept it an outstanding library,” she said.

Krick also mentioned Suddeth’s ability to hang on to her staff for such an extended period time.

“I think the longevity of her staff … also reflects what a great director she is because she hasn’t had a staff turnover,” Krick said. “Because of her quality leadership, we the staff have stayed on.”

The staff is sad to see her go, Krick added.

“We’re very, very sad,” Krick said. “We’re happy for her, but we’re sad for us. We’re family; we have a great leader. The leader of our family is moving on, and it’s going to be quite an adjustment for us.”

The library staff and the Friends of the Library gave a party for Suddeth last Friday.

On Wednesday, June 27 there will an official reception, Krick said. The mayor, council members, library board, library staff, Friends of the Library and family members have also been invited to this reception that will honor Suddeth’s many years spent at the library.

The reception will be held in the morning. Later, during the libraries hours, 1 to 8 p.m., the public is encouraged to come in an sign a guest book.

Suddeth is excited about her retirement but is also sad to be stepping down from her directorship.

When asked what she is going to miss most about being director, the first thing she said was her staff.

“They’re just wonderful folks, and it’s just been a joy working with them,” Suddeth said.

The next thing she will miss most are the people in this community.

“You do your job but it’s usually the people that make it what it is, and that’s especially true here,” Suddeth said.

Although a new director hasn’t been chosen yet, Suddeth offered a few words of encouragement and advice.

“Get to know the community,” she said. “Take part in the community. Just be at home here, and the people love the library, and if you continue the growth and the programs … I think you’ll do well.”

During her retirement, Suddeth plans to do something she loves: travel. She has a cruise to Alaska planned toward the end of the summer and is hoping to also take a trip to England.

She also said she wants to spend more time with her son and daughter and her five grandchildren.

She plans to continue reading, her favorite genre being mystery, but she would also like to join a book club.

She said she wants to do some new things, too, and get active in the community.

“(I want to) branch out and do some other things I haven’t had time to do,” Suddeth said, “People have said you’ll be much busier retiring than working, so I’m looking forward to a different type of activity.”