A changing of the guard at Cathlamet library: Cheri Rendler's winding journey


September 21, 2023

Diana Zimmerman

Cheri Rendler

Cheri Rendler's story at the Cathlamet Library is a kind of epilogue to the career she's already had. A retirement job, she calls it.

"I did not always want to be a librarian," Rendler said. "I wanted to be a schoolteacher, or a veterinarian, or the great American novelist."

She grew up in the Bay Area in California. She attended the University of Washington and received a degree in English Literature, along with a certificate in fiction writing.

"But as we know," she told me, "fiction writing doesn't pay any bills. It takes an incredible amount of discipline, which I found was hard to sustain for the whole day, that creative element.

"Bills had to be paid, so I ended up getting a job with the post office. I was a letter carrier for six years in Seattle."

Her route was physical, with plenty of hills and stairs, and a heavy bag.

After awhile, she began to realize she wasn't happy and she just didn't want to do it any more. She began to question her purpose.

"I love books," Rendler thought. "I'm one of those librarians: I'm going to be a librarian because I love books and I love reading."

So she began her career at the very bottom of the King County Library System, working six hours a week shelving books.

After subbing all over King County, Rendler would work her way up to circulation supervisor at the Lake Forest Park branch, where she started.

When her husband, who she met while working at the post office, got transferred to Boise, Idaho, she decided to continue her career with the library system there.

Uncertain where to focus, and still without a masters in library science, Rendler's on-the-job training continued. She worked in a number of different systems, in libraries big and small in Boise.

In the smaller libraries, comparable to the Cathlamet Library, she got to know a lot of people and was doing a little bit of everything.

Rendler would go on to earn a degree in library science from Emporia State University, through a cohort style online program. It took two years with weekend intensives, while working full-time.

"It was nice to get the education and the piece of paper," she said. "In Idaho you can be a librarian without a piece of paper, but in Washington state, to have the office title, you have to have the piece of paper."

"I like helping people, it's always different every single day, even when it's challenging," she added. "As I got farther removed into management, I really enjoyed the puzzle piece aspect of it."

During the latter part of her career, she ended up working in collection management, where they were in charge of selecting, ordering, and processing all of the library materials, and dealing with questions of what to weed out and what to keep.

Like many at the time, retirement came with the onset of covid-19.

"It was a lot," Rendler said. She and her husband wanted to return to western Washington where she could be closer to her parents, who live in Wahkiakum County.

Rendler started volunteering at the Cathlamet Library two days a week in November. Her experience made her a good fit when outgoing librarian Carol Blix decided to retire.

This new librarian, who officially started on Saturday, thinks it is important to come in for a period of time and just figure out what is going on, what is important, what the community is focused on, and where the gaps are, before making any changes.

She hopes to take the first four to six months to figure that out and get to know the volunteers. Listen to their ideas. Maybe have a community survey.

"Carol's shoes are going to be big to fill," Rendler said.

Rendler's lists Albert Camus and Elizabeth Berg as a couple of her favorite authors. She loves mysteries and what she calls contemporary women's fiction. Jonathon Kellerman is her go to guilty read.


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