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.
Birmingham’s Shakespeare Memorial Library
Explore a series of materials introducing Birmingham’s Shakespeare Memorial Library.
- Illustrated booklet: Splendid Introduction to the Shakespeare Collection.
- Podcast: The First Great Shakespeare Library - A Forgotten Birmingham Story. By Professor Ewan Fernie
- Podcast: New Thinking: Everything to Everybody - Shakespeare for the people. With Islam Issa, Adrian Lester & Ewan Fernie
- Blog post: ‘Everything to Everybody’: Birmingham’s Secret Shakespeare collection. By Ruth Millington
- Blog post: Exploring the archives of Birmingham's Shakespeare Library. By Steve Hewett
- Blog post: The Shakespeare Memorial Library and Germany. By Steve Hewett
- Blog post: ‘Your beautiful little Shakespeare library’, Halliwell-Phillipps and the Shakespeare Memorial Library. By Steve Hewett
- Blog post: 'A small corner that is forever Shakespeare'. By Steve Hewett
- Blog post: 'Researching the Birmingham Shakespeare Library'. By Steve Hewett
- Blog post: 'J H Chamberlain: Shakespeare, Architecture and … doodles?'. By Francesca Rhodes
- Blog post: 'Sold, Stored or Saved? The Peculiar History of the Shakespeare Room'. By Francesca Rhodes
- Blog post: 'Made in Birmingham: John Henry Chamberlain and the Shakespeare Memorial Room'. By Francesca Rhodes
- Blog post: 'Shakespeare Memorial Library Subscribers’ Committee - a Source of Inspiration?'. By Samuel Taylor
- Blog post: 'The Less Well-Known Members of the Shakespeare Memorial Library’s Subscribers’ Committee'. By Samuel Taylor
- Blog post: 'The Mysterious Mr John Ward: The Birmingham based, grand-daddy of eighteenth century Shakespeare'. By Karin Thomson
- Blog post: 'Shakespeare Without Class: Birmingham’s Eighteenth Century Theatres'. By Karin Thomson
- Blog post: '“Line…?!” Prompt Books of the Theatre Royal, Birmingham'. By Karin Thomson
- Blog post: 'Everything you wanted to know about PLAYBILLS but were afraid to ask…'. By Karin Thomson
- Article: 'Birmingham's First Folio Goes on Tour'. By Diane Parkes
‘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.
- Resource: Introduction to Project Themes and Resources. By Professor Ewan Fernie
- Resource: Shakespeare, Inclusion and Working-class Communities. By Professor Ewan Fernie
- Resource: Shakespeare, Nonconfomity and Diversity. By Professor Ewan Fernie
- Resource: Birmingham and Europe. By Professor Ewan Fernie
- Resource: A Shakesperean Commonwealth. By Professor Ewan Fernie
- Resource: Beautiful Birmingham: Art and Welfare. By Professor Ewan Fernie
- Resource: Festival Theme - Ophelia's Flowers, Bringing Shakespeare to Life in Birmingham. By Professor Ewan Fernie
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.
- Article: George Dawson The Lost Prophet. By Professor Ewan Fernie
- Podcast: Meet Birmingham's Lost Philosopher George Dawson 1821 - 1876. By Professor Ewan Fernie
- Video: Tristram Hunt Talks About George Dawson
- Article, Podcasts and Film: 'O Brave New World?' Shakespeare, Birmingham and America by Professor Ewan Fernie and Professor Katherine Scheil
Watch a series films about the Everything to Everybody project and the Shakespeare Memorial Library.
- Video: Shakespeare Fridays
- Video: Birmingham Heritage Week
- Video: History West Midlands
- Video: World's Stage
- Video: Like to the Lark by Ex Cathedra
- Video: Tell Your Own Story by Soul City Arts
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.