The Folger’s own Ariel

By Garland Scott

Retiring: Gail Kern Paster

Early in her tenure as director of the Folger Shakespeare Library, Gail Kern Paster learned that the waterproofing surrounding the Folger’s rare books vault was eroding, leaving the walls to crack and water to puddle on the floor. The required excavation and re-waterproofing took more than a year and involved moving much of the rare Folger collection, yet Paster kept the reading rooms open, ensured that seminars took place and made certain that in the library’s Eliza­bethan Theatre, the show went on.
Paster, director of the Folger since 2002, recently announced her plans to retire on July 1, 2011. She is the fifth director of the Washington, D.C., library, which opened in 1932 and is administered under the auspices of Amherst College.

Under Paster, new acquisitions have reached their highest level in Folger history and the library has exponentially increased access to its collection, particularly through digital initiatives: more than 35,000 digital surrogates of collection items are now online. Paster also created a division dedicated to K-12 education. The audience for public programs—plays, concerts, readings, lectures and exhibitions—has grown by some 25 percent. Paster has also raised more than $28 million—a record for the Folger.

“She is the Folger’s own Ariel, our shape-shifting magic spirit whose loyalty and imagination have produced extraordinary results,” says Paul Ruxin ’65, chair of the Folger Board. Board member Ken Ludwig calls Paster “the rock star of the world of Shakespeare. The great legacy of the Folger has blossomed under her steady hand.”

Photo by June Ainsworth / Folger