West Tisbury librarian settles in

Howard Curtis: Photo by Alan Brigish
New West Tisbury library director, Howard Curtis. Photo by Alan Brigish

By Dan Cabot - June 22, 2006

Howard Curtis, the new director of the West Tisbury library, is a happy man. For nearly 10 years the director of a large library in Corona, Calif., he never was able to think of himself a "from California." He laughs and says, "That was my sentence - now I'm coming back after serving it." He cites the dry desert climate of Corona and the conservative political climate of wealthy Orange County as negatives he never really was able to adjust to. "Southern California is a whole different world."

Mr. Curtis grew up in Haverhill, where his mother, siblings, and grown children still live. After graduating from American University in Washington in 1974 and having no clear plan, he took a summer job in his hometown library. The summer job turned into a career, and six years later, after earning a master's degree in library science at Simmons College, he was named director of the Haverhill library, a job he held for 15 years.

In 1996, Mr. Curtis was named director of the library in Corona, where he remained (except for a short, unhappy stint as director of a library in New Jersey) until 2005, when became eligible for early retirement, an option which gave him the freedom to consider many different paths - including the one which had led him to West Tisbury.

In talking with The Times at the end of his first week on the job, he shared his delight at landing here: "This is just such an amazing place - the Island, West Tisbury, the whole New England setting, the green woodlands, the ocean. . . ." Not least on his list is the West Tisbury library itself. "I'm already very impressed with this library and its collection of materials. For a community this size, it has a library to be very proud of."

Mr. Curtis thinks that the job in West Tisbury, at a much smaller library than either Haverhill or Corona, will allow him to have more contact with library patrons and do more of the tasks that the director of a large library does not have time to do (selecting books to purchase, for example). "Once you get to the director's job [in a large library], you get separated from the public and from the materials, rather than what got you into libraries in the first place - loving books and reading and literature." He looks forward to getting to know the regular patrons by name. In his first week he has been pleased that so many people have walked in and asked to meet the new director. "Just in this week I've met so many interesting people," he said with genuine enthusiasm.

Mr. Curtis told The Times that writing was one of the paths he was considering when he retired from the Corona position. The smaller library with shorter hours, he hopes, will give him time, at least during the winter months, to write: history, genealogy, book reviews, articles on library management and library issues. Mr. Curtis is temporarily staying at Cleaveland House, which is owned by author Cynthia Riggs and specializes in writers and writing, and has begun to meet some of the many writers who live on the Island.

Like many new arrivals, Mr. Curtis is house hunting and discovering the housing problem endemic in living year-round in a summer resort. However, he seems to be approaching the task with good humor, and he is committed to the future of the West Tisbury library. "This job has brought back all the energy that got me into the work in the first place." How long would he plan to stay? "At least five years," he says. "I hope that this will be my last job until I retire for real."