I write today with such a sad heart, brought low by the death of Betsy Walsh. As Head of Reader Services, she presided over the Folger Reading Rooms—the inner sanctum—for many years. While the word “preside” reflects something of her job description, the woman herself was so much more: a welcoming, warm, intellectual powerhouse whose prodigious knowledge, generosity, irreverence, and wicked sense of humor have served and taught and delighted hoards of people, and in particular, many, many middle school and high school teachers.
She began working in the Reading Room as a college student. “I kept on here because I thought it suited me,” she said when I asked her if she had ever had a yen to work anyplace else. It suited her, and it more than suited this Library bigtime. For 43 years, she was a guide and friend to so many readers, teachers, exhibition curators, colleagues, and a long line of Folger Library directors.
Betsy Walsh, from the first, was a champion of schoolteachers. Schoolteachers were not a regular presence in the Reading Room until our first Teaching Shakespeare Institute in 1984. The prospect of a group of 50—count ‘em, 50—new readers arriving at once was daunting to some, but not to Betsy. She was a partner always, bought in to the primacy of teachers and to the importance of connecting them to the collection in as many ways as she could. She has been a significant influence in the development of so many of our teaching materials, and in providing more and better ways for teachers to get to primary sources.
Some of you have met her and worked with her. For those of you who have and the more of you who haven’t, know this: in addition to all of her other official responsibilities, Betsy Walsh was Folger Education’s not-so-secret weapon and your fierce advocate. She had a deep interest in all of you, in your work and in your excitement about the Folger and our collection.
We are moving slowly here this week, struggling with love and loss. I wanted to get this to you though, because she has had a spot in your world and work.
Peggy O’Brien, Ph.D.
Director of Education
Folger Shakespeare Library