CHATHAM – For the past 18 years, Eldredge Public Library Youth Services Director Tammy DePasquale has reached out to embrace children, from infants to teens, with a goal of fostering in them a love of reading and a passion for libraries. In December the Chatham Rotary Club reached out to her, awarding DePasquale their Person of the Year award for 2018.
"It's our way of recognizing a member of the community who has given exemplary service," said Gail Eldredge, president of the local Rotary. "We want to recognize what they have done and, as our mission states, encourage service to others."
DePasquale, a native of upstate New York whose family moved to Chatham in the 1960s, recalled recently that "the Eldredge Library was my first library and the library card was my first one too."
She graduated in the Chatham High School class of 1978 with a goal of being a teacher. A major in English at Springfield College was her first step. "I wasn't sure what age group I wanted," she recalled.
After college she and husband Dave moved to Arizona and her first experience as a teacher was at a preschool/elementary school. She found the age group "a joy to work with. They had a hunger to learn and were so happy to be there. It was a joy to go to work!"
After 10 years in Arizona, the couple and their three children moved back to the Cape and she taught at Wellfleet Elementary. A goal of eventually going into the publishing business led her to enroll in the masters in children's literature degree program at Simmons College in Boston and she commuted three nights, earning her degree in 2000.
After graduation, DePasquale was hired as the director of youth services at the Whitman Public Library in Whitman, Mass. She loved the job but not the commute so when she saw an ad for the youth services director at the Eldredge Public Library in 2002 she jumped at the chance to return home.
For the past 18 years DePasquale has worked to make the library a place to be for youth of all ages. "Once they are in, we work to get them excited about reading and books," she said. "Our goal is that the library is a fun and safe place to be."
Programming is key, she noted, and with the assistance of library staff, volunteers and children themselves, she organizes and delivers over 250 youth programs and events each year. Her longevity in the position means that a number of the children whom she met for the first time in Toddler Story Time are now parents themselves, some bringing their own children to programs for the first time.
Others who were in Wee Readers are now Junior Friends, volunteering to help with programming and events at the library.
Asked about a typical day, DePasquale laughed and noted, "there is no typical day, every day changes and that's what I love about it!" Between preparing for the next program, reading reviews of books for children of all ages, conversing with kids about their reading wish list, putting together bulletin boards and designing displays, ordering books and pulling together book lists to complement events at school and around town, DePasquale's day is more than full.
And don't try to keep up with the number of book groups she runs and, of course, reads with. There are a half dozen or more of them for youth in the library, starting with My FIRST Book Club (kindergarten through second grade) and on to Chat and Chew, for third and fourth graders, currently specializing in books made into films.
There are three "mock" reading groups, whose members range from fourth grade to adult, reading books eligible for the American Library Association's three prestigious awards for children's literature – the Caldecott, Newberry and Prince awards recognizing, respectively, picture books, children's selections and young adult offerings. "We follow their criteria and come up with our own winners in each category," DePasquale said, adding the Eldredge selections were announced in January.
Then there is the book group for teens called Novel Conversations which deals with often tough contemporary topics. "The Hate U Give" is a recent popular read for this group. And an intergenerational book group, aiming to bring together youth and seniors, is under development.
As for her own reading, "I'm trying to read more adult titles," DePasquale said, adding her latest reads include Michelle Obama's “Becoming” and Susan Orleans' “The Library Book.”
Last spring DePasquale was promoted to assistant director of the Eldredge, while retaining her role as department head for youth services. A search is underway for her replacement and DePasquale said the timing is right. "It's time for new blood. We need to embrace what we do well and add new things."
Affordable housing is one of the difficult issues as the library searches for her replacement at youth services. "We have seen stellar candidates but the housing process is difficult," she said.
Right now she is juggling both jobs, and added that the library is waiting for the right person who is "passionate about children."
"The Eldredge is a great place to work and youth services has a tremendous level of support from every level, from trustees, the staff, volunteers and the community."
DePasquale was completely surprised to receive the award from the Rotary, she said. "I am rarely speechless and I was honored and humbled. It's quite an honor and a special community."