Katya Schapiro settles in as Emily Williston Memorial Library’s new director in Easthampton

  • Katya Schapiro, the new library director at the Emily Williston Memorial Library in Easthampton, shelves books recently. Her first day on the job was Dec. 6. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Katya Schapiro, the new library director at the Emily Williston Memorial Library in Easthampton, shelves books during her first few weeks on the job. Her first day was Dec. 6. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Katya Schapiro, the new library director at the Emily Williston Library in Easthampton, shelves books during her first few weeks on the job. Her first day was Dec. 6. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Katya Schapiro, the new library director at the Emily Williston Library in Easthampton, shelves books during her first few weeks on the job. Her first day was Dec. 6. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/2/2022 7:47:01 PM
Modified: 1/2/2022 7:46:22 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Katya Schapiro was 7 years old when she ran her first card-catalogued library in the attic of her family home. Little did the Northampton native know that when she sorted the one and only shelf of the “Bookworm Library” that several decades later she’d tackle the same role in the next city over.

“It’s coming full circle,” she said with a laugh. “Clearly I’ve always been somewhat in the zone.”

Schapiro assumed the role as the director of the Emily Williston Memorial Library on Dec. 6. She succeeds Nora Blake, who served as the library’s director for five years before taking a director role at the Ipswich Public Library in August. In the interim, the responsibilities of the director were shared among three members of the staff: Adult Services Librarian Stephanie Levine, Youth Services Librarian Moira Cranshaw and Jonathan Schmidt, senior library assistant, youth services.

Schapiro holds a master’s degree in library and information science from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, and a bachelor’s degree from Barnard College in New York City. She has a background in educational and arts nonprofits, publishing and theater. She spent 10 years at the Brooklyn Public Library serving as program coordinator for grants, a children’s librarian and most recently, a manager.

“I’m moving back home really. I’ve lived about 20 years of my life in New York and 20 years here. I have a lot of love for both areas, but I’m excited to be back and starting some new opportunities here,” she said. “I think one of the best ways to join or rejoin a community is to work for the public library.”

As she settles into her new role, Schapiro said she’s hoping to work on collaborations with the city and other nonprofits in an effort to grow the library’s role in Easthampton. Like several other area libraries, funding has been a challenge. But unlike others, Emily Williston Memorial is not actually a city department, it’s an independent nonprofit that works in partnership with the city, said Schapiro. Easthampton provides the library with $218,927 in city funding, which according to a previous Gazette report is slightly more than half the library’s overall operating budget.

Schapiro described the COVID-19 pandemic as a soul-searching moment for libraries.

“In addition to the interruption of our services, it’s caused a lot of libraries and their librarians to reevaluate the core mission, how it’s done and how the services are offered,” she said.

One service that was introduced during the pandemic is curbside pickup. By calling 413-527-1031 or emailing curbside@ewmlibrary.org, the library will book orders and deliver them curbside. The service was introduced, so people who don’t feel comfortable entering the building during the pandemic won’t have to come in. However, Schapiro said the service is something she’d like to maintain on a permanent basis.

“The idea of not having to park and unload in order to get library materials actually works for our community where we don’t have a parking lot,” she said.

One of the elements that was highlighted as an area that needed improvement in the library’s last strategic plan was compliance with the Americans with Disability Act. While there is a ramp in the front of the building, there is no elevator in the building and the children’s area is not accessible to people who can’t use stairs. One option still being considered is a possible new location.

“We’re interested in providing full, modern, accessible services to the city and that is something that is not totally possible in this building. We’ve done everything that is feasible to do at this point,” said Schapiro. “I think to be a real community center and to really function, a library needs to not just be an idea or a building, but to really be a place that can provide the true services that people need.”

Looking for a new space doesn’t mean that the library’s current building, which first opened to the community in 1881, will not remain part of the library, she added.

“We’re not abandoning this beautiful space,” she said.

Schapiro learned the impact that access to a dedicated reading space can have on someone very early on. Besides her personally crafted Bookworm Library, she also attended a library at the Campus School of Smith College. Inside one of the eaves of that library, she recalled a painted closet with scenes from the Chronicles of Narnia book series by C.S. Lewis. At the time, people could sign up to read in the space for 20-minute time slots. Much like the wardrobe from “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” book, the space provided an entrance to another world for Schapiro. 

“That was my heavenly scene,” she said, clutching her necklace that had a pendant of a wardrobe on it with a smile. “I do see a lot of love for it as a structure and not just as a house for what the library is. There’s a huge nostalgia for this building and I think it’s well placed. People see it as an anchor to this town. There’s a real deep affection for this space and I can feel it growing on me already, it’s not small.” 

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.

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