Greg Prickman recently joined the staff of the Folger Shakespeare Library as the Director of Collections and Eric Weinmann Librarian. He’d barely had a chance to unpack his books before we subjected him to some questions about his duties, his interests, his goals, and what he thinks of Capitol Hill.
Q. As I’m sure you can attest, libraries are constantly evolving and the duties of a librarian are also undergoing significant changes. What exactly are your responsibilities at the Folger? And how do they differ from your previous position as head of Special Collections at the University of Iowa Libraries?
A. I am responsible for the operation of the library portion of the Folger, which includes activities such as overseeing the curation and management of the collection, acquisitions, the services provided in the Reading Room, the conservation lab, cataloging and collection description, digitization, etc. The responsibilities are wide-ranging but nicely focused within the collections of the Folger. This position supervises more staff and encompasses more departments than my previous position at Iowa, but many of the tasks and goals are similar—increasing access to these incredible materials, supporting my staff in achieving their professional goals, and ensuring the Folger remains a leading resource for scholars, librarians, and anyone interested in the early modern period.
Q. At the University of Iowa, you were responsible for a 2016 exhibition of a First Folio that the Folger sent on nationwide tour to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. How does it feel to now be responsible for the 82 copies of the First Folio that the Folger holds?
A. I feel strongly that I am just the latest in a long line of temporary caretakers, stretching back to the original owners and on through collectors like the Folgers, to the generations of staff that have cared for them since the Folger Shakespeare Library first opened. To be a part of that lineage of stewardship is quite simply an incredible opportunity. We live and work with these materials every day, but there isn’t ever a point where the feeling of responsibility diminishes. We do this work so that others can do their work, and so that others can experience the presence of these books in their lives as well. And of course, maybe it goes without saying, but…walking the stacks here is just breathtaking.
Q. Your prior experience seems to trend a little more modern than the Folger collection—Civil War diaries, early film, Explorer satellite tapes, Star Trek, fanzines. What made you want to go all the way back to Shakespeare and the Early Modern period—and do you think you’ll like it there?
A. I was very fortunate to experience a wide range of collections at Iowa, and even more so, I was fortunate to work with an exceptional variety of people who collected and donated many of those materials. Professionally, those relationships are what I miss most in making the transition. However, beneath the surface of that eclectic mix of topics and eras lies the place where my heart has always been—the printed books of the hand-press era in Europe. I have focused some of my work on 15th-century printing, and I have taught and presented on early printed books. Shakespeare has been part of my life for many years, with a particular interest in the archaeology of theaters in Shakespeare’s time. So, when this opportunity at the Folger came to be, it presented a chance to embrace these aspects of my interests, at a place that is one of the most renowned institutions for their study.
Q. What do you see as your greatest challenge(s) going forward? What are you most looking forward to accomplishing during your tenure at the Folger?
A. There are many challenges ahead, and I find them invigorating. How do we break down barriers to access for all, while providing the best service possible to highly specialized researchers in need of these materials? How do we re-imagine the ways in which we present and exhibit books and manuscripts to audiences who may not have any inherent reason to think that they are anything other than old and unusual? How do we devise new ways to deliver the contents of our collection to users across the globe in ways that are intuitive, meaningful, and effective? I am looking forward to having a role in shaping the future of the Folger, and to continuing to explore the many ways the Folger can be of the greatest possible benefit to the communities in which we live and work.
Q. You only came on board in July, so you probably haven’t had much of a chance to explore the neighborhood, but do you have any first impressions of Capitol Hill? What do you see as the Folger’s role in the community?
A. While it is true that I haven’t been able to explore too much yet, it is very much the case that Capitol Hill was a factor in drawing me to the Folger. From the Midwest, where I have lived my entire life up to now, Capitol Hill rarely had much meaning beyond the government and the news. When I arrived for my interview, I was immediately struck with the neighborhood, and an almost intangible feeling of community and vibrancy. It was really surprising to me, and made me feel as if a move to Washington, DC, could be an intriguing possibility. I think the Folger has a very important role in the community, one that I hope can continue to evolve and expand. The Folger is a special place, and it can serve as a special place within the community, a place of curiosity, excitement, performance, and, well, really cool stuff. It is both reassuringly traditional and unexpectedly unpredictable, elements that are inclusive rather than exclusive. Don’t be fooled by the austere façade, the Folger is a place for everyone and we are excited to help people find out what is here. These experiences can enrich all members of the Capitol Hill community.