Using Birmingham’s forgotten past to inspire our future
Understanding the world’s first great people’s Shakespeare library
Resources

The Collection

Opened in 1868 as the first great Shakespeare library in the world, Birmingham’s Shakespeare Memorial Library contains more than 40,000 volumes, 17,000 production photographs, 2,000 music scores, hundreds of British and international production posters, 15,000 performance programmes and 10,000 playbills. The Collection is now housed in the iconic Library of Birmingham, one of the UK’s most exciting new public buildings, and located at the heart of the city, in Centenary Square.

One of the greatest treasures in Birmingham’s Shakespeare collection is a copy of the First Folio - the first printed collection of Shakespeare’s work and one of the most influential books ever published.

Bought for the town in 1881, it is stamped ‘free libraries of Birmingham’ and was part of the Council’s aim to provide accessible education for all citizens, not just those from wealthy backgrounds.

The Collection also includes a Second, Third and Fourth Folio, as well as around 70 further rare and early editions. Materials come in 93 different languages, including an 1880s complete edition in Braille. There are some incredible Shakespeare-related artworks by Dali, Picasso and Kokoschka, as well as costume designs by Jean Cocteau. The Collection also includes scrapbooks, annotated scripts, promptbooks, television and radio adaptations, and newspaper cuttings, in addition to unique material relating to the greatest Shakespeareans from Ellen Terry to Lawrence Olivier.

‘Everything to Everybody’ will be working over the next 3 years to digitise this world-significant cultural collection. Please visit this page for updates.

Resources

Birmingham’s Shakespeare Memorial Library

Explore a series of materials introducing Birmingham’s Shakespeare Memorial Library.

‘Everything to Everybody’ Project Themes

In this series of downloadable articles, Project Director Professor Ewan Fernie introduces the 6 core themes of the project. Each of the themes offers an insight into the collections as well as bringing elements from Birmingham’s historic Shakespeare collection together with the uniquely progressive historical ethos of democratic inclusion it expresses and offering a meaningful point of connection for Birmingham communities now.

These themes are intended as useful background information for people and communities to use and build on as they wish. We welcome new responses to Birmingham’s forgotten Shakespearean heritage.

George Dawson

Get to know George Dawson! A radical preacher, lecturer and activist, George Dawson founded the Library as part of a pioneering ‘Civic Gospel’, which helped make 19th-century Birmingham the world’s most progressive modern city.

Project Films

Watch a series films about the Everything to Everybody project and the Shakespeare Memorial Library.

International Interest

Professor Tobias Döring - former President of the German Shakespeare Society, the oldest national Shakespeare society in the world - reports on the extraordinary wealth and sheer extent of the German material held in Birmingham’s world-significant Shakespeare Library.