Shawn Bakker is convinced everyone has a library story. Whether it’s acquiring our very first library card or wandering up and down the stacks to find literature that speaks to us, the library holds a nostalgic and impactful place in our hearts. As President of the Nashville Public Library Foundation, the library’s nonprofit arm, Shawn ensures the library thrives and serves the Davidson County community through programs and fundraising initiatives. Her immense love for reading is infectious, and she inspires us to embrace the library as a place that unites our community. Please welcome our newest FACE of Nashville, Shawn Bakker.
What led you to your role with the Nashville Public Library Foundation (NPLF)?
First, my love of libraries. When I applied for the job, my husband said, “Shawn, do you remember that when we moved to Nashville, you wouldn’t even change your driver’s license (we came from New York City) until you had your library card?” The library was such an important place for me when I was growing up. It helped ground me as a child, and it has been the same for my three children. It became kind of a community center and gathering place for us.
For me, fundraising is all about relationships and passion. There aren’t a lot of things I’m more passionate about than a place that brings all people together. When I think of the library, it’s truly a place for everybody. It doesn’t matter your age or economic status; all are truly welcome. Oftentimes, we talk about it as the great equalizer. I love to talk with people and hear their library stories … to have that connection.
What challenges have you faced over the last few months to provide educational opportunities during the pandemic?
The mission is for the foundation to support the library’s programs and initiatives, and those have had to change a lot in the last seven months. For example, Limitless Libraries is one of the programs we support, and it allows all of our public schools to have access to our library’s collection. A Metro student can go to their library, order any book in our system, and it’s delivered to their school library within a couple of days. When schools were closed, the concern was what that means for our students and their ability to access books. We were able to adapt and adjust the Limitless Libraries program and partner with Metro schools so that as schools distributed supplies and lunches for the kids, they could also distribute books. As we got a little bit more sophisticated and the months passed, we increased our digital collection significantly so anyone could access the materials for free by downloading them.
We also started the Summer Reading Challenge two months early, and a lot of our programs moved to digital. We were able to shift our puppet shows, our studio program for teens, and our digital inclusion for seniors to virtual programs. I was talking with Brian Hull, who plays The Professor in our storytime, and he said, “We definitely miss having the kids in our theater. However, we’re getting thousands of views with the virtual puppet show.” Yes, we have to give up that in-person [experience], but the reach has been greater.
The 17th Annual NPLF Literary Awards weekend is on November 14. How does the event look different this year?
It’s our biggest fundraiser of the year. We normally highlight a distinguished author and bring him or her to Nashville to share at both a public lecture and our gala. The public lecture is free and open to everybody, and then the gala is the evening fundraiser. We’ve had to pivot that because it’s going to be a virtual event. We’ll still have a public lecture and a gala, but instead of just highlighting one author, we’re bringing in local Nashville authors to be a part of it. We’re also telling the transformative library stories of so many of our patrons. It’s one of those things we would never have done if it wasn’t for COVID, but it’s such a wonderful opportunity for us to share with the community. It will be a week after the election, and we recognize the divided nature right now. It’s a chance for the community to come together to celebrate the diverse fabric of our own community here in Davidson County.
What is your first library memory?
I remember walking to our bookmobile. It felt like a long trek, but it was probably only two-and-a-half blocks from our house. The bookmobile would stop in the summer. My mom would allow me and my sisters to go on our own, and it was that rush of cold air as I opened the door, the smell of the books, and knowing I could pick whatever I wanted — as many books as I could carry. That sense of freedom felt like the world was right there in front of me. For me, it was the independence and choosing my own path.
What book is currently on your nightstand?
It’s not quite on my nightstand, but it’s Stamped by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds. It’s actually a youth book, and I’m reading it with my 11-year-old son. Now that we’re beyond some of the early reader books, which you read over and over again with kids, we’re into literature that produces such good conversation. I love that. Stamped helps us to understand our history of racism. It’s a hard topic, but it has produced such meaningful conversations. I love being able to instill that love of reading.
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What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Be yourself.” Now that I have kids, it means something totally different for me. I find myself telling my 8-year-old daughter, “Just be you.” Hearing myself say that is such a good reminder when I have those moments of questioning myself. You are enough; just be true to yourself.
Aside from faith, family and friends, what three things can’t you live without?
Physical activity of some form or fashion, whether it’s running or hiking. My husband used to call me an adrenaline junkie. I’ve kind of scaled back, but I need to be active. Structure and order — I function really well with that. And a glass of wine.
Thank you, Shawn, for helping to nurture our love of books. And thanks to the Nashville Public Library Foundation for the photos.
Read about more amazing local FACES in our archives!