Clare Schapiro steps down Wednesday from the board of the Friends of Richmond Public Library after six years as a board member, the past two years as board president. The Friends are a nonprofit group supporting and promoting the city's Franklin Street main library and nine-branch system.
Earlier this month she received an award from the Friends of Virginia Libraries for her achievements; Schapiro, 44, now is looking forward to joining the board of the Richmond Public Library Foundation, the library's primary fund-raising arm, and continuing to champion the institution she loves.
Style caught up earlier this month with the busy mother, Theatre IV public relations director and civic activist:
Style Weekly: Almost everyone who loves libraries has done so since an early age. What's your story? Schapiro: I've always been a devoted bibliophile and library lover. I grew up in Richmond on Monument Avenue, and my mother was constantly going to the library and would take me along, so it became a familiar and beloved place to me just opened a world of opportunity up to me. Then I went to boarding school in England, a school with a very long literary tradition. When ultimately I came back, I continued to use the library again, but I noticed that I was in more of a minority of people using the library than I would have wished.
SW: What do you mean? Schapiro: Parents and children. It's such a wonderful resource, a joy, that people don't avail themselves of, and that's a great sadness to me. I was determined to make the library as much an active and vibrant part of my child's life as it was for me.
SW: It's been six years since you joined the Friends of Richmond Public Library board and two since you became its president. Have you accomplished your objectives? Schapiro: I think so. I wanted to increase membership, which in the last two years has almost doubled. I wanted to increase the Friends' giving to the library, and last year we made a $25,000 gift, which is the largest gift from the Friends in its 40-year history. I wanted to make the library more appealing and attractive, so more people would come, so the Friends launched a campaign of events, from the most successful book sales ever to more programming for kids. In fact, in September the Friends gave all entering first-graders in city schools a Richmond Public Library card, which sells for a dollar at the library but was free for the kids.
SW: How much influence do the Friends have in library policy? Is there any overlap with the library board itself or rivalry between these groups? Schapiro: No, the Friends are just a real grass-roots thing. We have no managerial sway. It's more just loving the library and wanting to make other people love it. For example, I think one of the best things we have done is completely revamping our newsletter and calendar of events, now monthly instead of quarterly, which is mailed to library members and given away at the libraries. We've seen a substantial increase in attendance because of that, making more people better aware of what the library has to offer.
SW: What about competition from the Internet - all this death-of-the-book and death-of-print stuff we keep hearing? Schapiro: I'm a lay person. I'm just someone who loves libraries and loves books. I use my computer all day long, but there's something about holding a book, turning the pages, smelling them, that I just can't imagine a world without books. [laughs] And of course you can get all that Internet stuff at the library, too. I want people to know that the library is alive and well and, if anything, on a dramatic and upward spiral. Not in terms of the budget from the city, but there's something in the air. It's bursting with kids at the story times and children's programs, and we're on a positive track. If somebody hasn't been to their library recently, I think they should go and check it out. I think they're in for a few
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