Today the iSchool and UW community mourns the loss of nationally and internationally known librarian, storyteller, and educator Professor Emeritus Spencer G. Shaw. Spencer passed away on June 16. He was 93 years old.
Books and reading were important parts of his early family life, and so was the Northwest Branch of the public library in his native Hartford. He shared his love of libraries, service and community during a nearly seven-decade career as a public librarian, educator and world-renowned expert on storytelling and library service to children. The American Library Association called him an "authentic and forthright spokesperson for children and youth librarians, contributing enormously in motivating and guiding the nation's youth."
"This is a very sad loss for the iSchool, and for anyone who cares deeply about the role that libraries and librarians play in the lives of youth," said UW Information School Dean and Professor Harry Bruce. "The qualities that made Spencer so beloved -- his charm, generosity of spirit, wit and humor -- were a powerful complement to his passion for inclusiveness and service to all of our youth. These qualities will be deeply missed."
Shaw was the inspiration for and driving force behind the Spencer G. Shaw Lecture Series, established in his honor when he retired in 1986 after 17 years on the UW faculty. Every year, a leading figure in children's literature comes to the UW campus to speak to students, librarians, teachers and parents. Famed authors and illustrators such as Tom Feelings, Maurice Sendak, Ashley Bryan, Margaret Mahy, Gary Soto, Laurence Yep, Theodore Taylor, Susan Cooper, Katherine Paterson, Milton Meltzer and Jerry Pinkney have participated. Recent authors have included Walter Dean Myers, Gerald McDermott and Patricia McKissack. Most participate at a fraction of their speaker's fees -- a tribute to the irresistible charm of Spencer Shaw and their enormous respect for him.
"It has been a humbling experience to have your colleagues recognize you for the work you have tried to do advancing services to children and youth," Spencer said in a recent interview. "When [the lecture series] was announced, I was amazed and also, I must say, it has been a fitting tribute to what I have tried to do in my career as a professional librarian."
Spencer Shaw grew up during the Depression in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Hartford, Connecticut, and was the only African-American student in his grammar and high school classes. His father, who worked in the Hartford National Bank & Trust Co., was actively involved in community affairs. His mother, a homemaker, was approached by the chief executive officer of Hartford's G. Fox and Company department store in the 1950s to serve as a consultant to the personnel department in training its minority employees for better positions as salespersons, section managers and buyers. Spencer was one of seven siblings.
"The passing of Spencer Shaw is devastating news to me," said iSchool Cleary Professor of Children and Youth Services Eliza Dresang. "I knew Spencer Shaw for many years through our association with the University of Wisconsin, and I had renewed that friendship since my arrival at the UW iSchool. I feel very fortunate about that.
"Spencer Shaw leaves a wonderful heritage for generations to come with his keen understanding of children, his advocacy for inclusion of all cultures in books for youth, and his magnificent storytelling, which he firmly believed was for people of all ages. We're fortunate to have Professor Emeritus Shaw's papers from 1949 - 2001, including radio broadcasts, storytelling programs, and his personal library, in the University of Washington Special Collections. This speaks to a portion of his legacy."
The iSchool is gathering people's reflections on the life of Spencer, to be posted online for others to read and share. If you would like to share your memories, please visit spencergshaw.org.
Funeral services will be held Thursday, June 24, at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut. www.westpresby.org