We are devastated to announce that Betsy Walsh, our beloved head of reader services here at the Folger, passed away on Friday, September 22, 2017.
Betsy was an inseparable part of the Folger—indeed, for many of us, she was the embodiment of the Folger Reading Room. She worked here for 43 years—about half of the Folger’s existence since it opened in 1932. During that time, she was a guide and friend to many readers, high school English teachers, exhibition curators, colleagues, and a long line of directors. Her knowledge of the Folger was unparalleled, as was her tactful, humorous way of recounting the history of this place and its people.
Betsy was born and raised in Washington, DC, and joined the Folger as a circulation page the summer before her senior year at Trinity College, where she was an English major. She seems to have been at home at the Folger immediately. “I liked it,” she recalled. “I liked the people and the work.” She worked part-time at the Folger as she earned a master’s degree in library science at the University of Maryland. She then became a full-time reference assistant at the Folger. She was appointed head of reader services in 1986.
Betsy worked on numerous exhibitions and other publications connected to the Folger’s collections. Her knowledge of the Folger’s history and collections were unparalleled—something which both readers and staff could use to their full advantage. Not only did her steel-trap memory mean that she could recall what precise copy of a book was used in a particular tour (often with the call number!), but she could give someone exact directions to find the material they were looking for. She would say something like “Go to the cabinets by the table, bottom drawer, third folder, it was a typescript letter on yellow typing paper.” And you would go to the cabinet and pull out the folder and lo and behold, the information that you needed was staring you in the face.
But even beyond her prodigious knowledge, it is Betsy’s warmth and good cheer that will be most missed in the Reading Room. She had a way of putting everyone, from a wide-eyed graduate student to the most senior scholar, at ease; this ability has made the Folger Reading Room a welcoming place for scholars of all stripes. We can only hope to continue the excellent example that she set for us all.
The other thing that will be sorely missed are her stories. Betsy was a consummate storyteller and her tales of the Folger will live on. We would like to invite you to share your memories—your stories—of Betsy in the comments below. We can think of no more fitting tribute.
For information regarding funeral services and all future memorial events, please see the memorial on our main website.