By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 15, 2010; C09
Gail Kern Paster, the director of the prestigious Folger Shakespeare Library, announced Monday that she will retire in July 2011.
In her eight years at the Folger, Paster has acquired increasingly rare documents of the Elizabethan era; raised millions of dollars, despite the recession, for the historic building and collections; and overseen the inevitable march to digitization.
What Paster didn't expect was having to supervise the rescue of thousands of priceless volumes when a major leak occurred in the rare book spaces in August 2002, a month after her arrival. Some 900 boxes of books had to be relocated, including 28,000 volumes to Amherst College.
"That was a real emergency. The waterproofing had clearly failed," Paster said. The underground vault was re-waterproofed and additional storage space was added.
Her decision to leave, Paster said, comes at a time when the library is on solid footing in its programs, outreach and finances. Fighting the recession has been hard, and she reduced the budget from $16 million to $13 million but didn't have to lay off any staff members. The Folger has raised $28 million in federal and private funds during her tenure.
Paster is announcing her retirement a year in advance because "the institution needs a good year of transition," she said. "It is very much the case I still have a real interest in my job and a deep and abiding love for the institution. Yet in a year I will be ready to step away, and I am looking forward to returning to scholarship."
The Folger exists in Washington's competitive environment of libraries, museums and theaters, being a combination of the three. It has also earned a reputation as an international research destination. The Folger has the largest collection of Shakespeare's printed works in the world, and its archives on Shakespeare and the Renaissance number 600,000 items.
Its collections keep growing, with the addition in the past few years of nearly 14,000 books, engravings and other materials valued at more than $5 million. It now has 32,000 images in its digital collection, which is accessible to everyone.
A lifelong Shakespearean scholar, Paster taught at George Washington University from 1974 to 2002. Among her writings are three books related to Shakespeare, following her personal interest in cultural history. In 2004 she published "Humoring the Body: Emotions and the Shakespearean Stage." At the Folger she also edited Shakespeare Quarterly until last year.