Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Person of the Week

Back to the Future: As Killingworth Librarian, Tammy Eustis Talks About History, A Time Capsule, and the Future


Assistant Director Tammy Eustis has been working at the Killingworth Library since 1998, improving services and making sure patrons receive their reference needs.

Photo by Maria Caulfield/The Source

Assistant Director Tammy Eustis has been working at the Killingworth Library since 1998, improving services and making sure patrons receive their reference needs. (Photo by Maria Caulfield/The Source | Buy This Photo)

For Tammy Eustis, gone are the days when a librarian’s job fit the stereotype of sitting behind a desk in a dark, musty reading room. Her job as assistant director of Killingworth Library is part customer service and part instinctive sleuthing to help patrons find their reference needs in a modern, open library with a welcoming lobby.

With a bachelor’s degree in American history from Hampshire College in Massachusetts and a master’s degree in library information science from the University of Rhode Island, Tammy was prepared to take the assistant director job at Killingworth Library in 1998.

In 2005, she was promoted to the director spot. But in 2018, she realized she preferred to be more involved with the everyday operations of the library and requested a step-down to the assistant director position.

“I got tired of doing all the administrative (work) and I wanted to go back to the roots,” she says. “I would tell people that I fired myself,” she adds lightheartedly.

She attributes her interest in libraries to her mother, who was the director of the Chester Public Library for 18 years before she passed away in 2016.

“I like to say I did not inherit the math genes from my dad, so I had to become a librarian like my mom,” she says with a laugh.

Through her elementary and high school years, Tammy would either volunteer or work at libraries.

“I knew I was always a ‘library brat.’ I was always hanging out at libraries,” she says.

Deciphering a Time Capsule

To Tammy, a good librarian must have flexibility, a sense of humor, and the skill to “connect the dots.” A few times, the ability to think outside the box helped her through a “reference interview,” the library’s term for figuring out what a patron is asking for.

That skill came in handy when a local woman who was renovating her house came to the library with a discolored note. It turned out to be from a time capsule retrieved from under some concrete steps that were demolished as part of her renovation.

The woman needed to have the time capsule note deciphered, but it was too faded and waterlogged to be legible to the naked eye. When the library’s photocopier failed to yield results and all other efforts proved unsuccessful, Tammy knew she had to be creative.

“The light switched on in my head,” she remembers. “We have an enlarger in the back where people can put regular-sized print. It sends it up through a light box and projects it on a TV screen.” Using the machine, Tammy fine-tuned the settings and reversed the image to have white letters on a black background.

And voila!

The note became readable. On the screen was a description of life in Killingworth during World War II and how the old homeowners had to go through food rationing and airplane watching. The patron left with a transcribed manuscript, happy to have turned to the library for help.

“People don’t think much about Killingworth, but we have a really interesting history here that I am constantly learning,” Tammy says.

A Historical House

On another occasion, a man from New York emailed Tammy inquiring about Hugh Lofting, the English author of the Doctor Doolittle novels for children. Lofting had moved his family to Killingworth and the email sender wanted to know more about the author’s residence.

Tammy went through the historical survey of the houses in town but was soon presented with a problem: two houses were identified as the Lofting residence.

Digging deeper and reading through more articles, Tammy discovered that one house was the Lofting main residence and the other was his writing studio—”But no one cleared that up before,” Tammy remembers. “So, I cleared it up with the town historian.”

With the historian’s confirmation, Tammy sent an information packet back to the email sender who revealed that he was translating Lofting’s work into Japanese. Today, the Killingworth Library has a copy of the Japanese book, a token of the man’s gratitude.

“It is a beautiful, hard copy book that reads (from) right to left,” Tammy says.

Looking to the Future

She notes that with technological advancement, her job knows no bounds, especially with email.

“I’m answering questions now of people living all over the country, if not all over the world,” she says.

At one point, she even corresponded with a woman from Mallorca, Spain.

She is also convinced that as technology improves and the community changes, libraries will adapt as well.

“Libraries have survived for thousands of years. And the only reason we’ve survived is that we’ve adapted. We’ve done it very subtly and very carefully. And we do it in response to what the community needs. So, if the community changes, we’re going to change with it. We’re not going to just sit here and keep doing the same thing and die off,” she says.

Unlike brick-and-mortar stores that have been threatened by competition and the emergence of online retailers, libraries have evolved and grown.

“The nice thing is that there are different libraries. We are not in competition with each other…If you go to Clinton and you go to Chester, you’ll see a totally different collection of books,” she says. “They’ll have some similarities but they’re matching what their community wants.”

She also handles the Killingworth Library Association Facebook page. Although the library is in the process of optimizing its social media presence, it does use social media to gather more information about the community and its needs, including a survey in the fall.

“We’re going to reach out to people to see how they want the library to change or stay the same,” she says. “We’re not just stuck on Facebook…It’s, ‘Tell us how you get your information,’ and we’re going to respond to that.”

To Tammy, libraries have become not just an essential service, but also an integral part of the community.

“(We) create partnerships with women organizations, Parmelee Farm, the historical society, the Lions [Club] and small businesses,” she says.

“The networking possibilities are endless. I’ve seen Killingworth grow over the past 21 years,” she says. “We’re becoming more [like] community centers. The important thing is just to stay in touch with the public and see what they want.”

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Maria Caulfield is the Associate Editor for Zip06. Email Maria at

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