Birmingham Shakespeare Library
Library of Birmingham
B1 2ND United Kingdom
work 0044 121/242 4242
The Birmingham Shakespeare Library is Britain's most important Shakespeare collection and one of the world's largest and finest collections of Shakespeare material.
It was founded in 1864 in an era of great civic pride. Shakespeare was revered as a cornerstone of English Literature and celebrated in many festivals and clubs. The Birmingham Shakespeare Club, which became "Our Shakespeare Club", was set up by Liberal reformers, led by George Dawson. The Club's collection formed the basis of Birmingham Shakespeare Library and was housed in the Reference Library. George Dawson expressed the original aims for the collection as one containing "every edition and every translation of Shakespeare, all the commentators, good, bad and indifferent; in short every book connected with the life or works of our great poet".
At first, acquiring rarities was less important to the Birmingham Shakespeare Library than building up an extensive collection. Even so, when the library first opened it contained a number of rare, and some unique, items. These were mostly gifts. There is a good copy of the First Folio, 1623 and also copies of the four earliest Folio editions. There are over 70 editions of separate plays printed before 1709 including three "Pavier" quartos published in 1619, as well as a significant number of adaptations, anthologies and individual editions of note.
The 19th century enthusiasm for collecting scrapbooks is evident in the collection and there is no doubt that they are one of its great strengths. The Forrest Collection, Turner, Pearson and Bennett Collection along with loose illustrations are all of considerable significance and are not to be found elsewhere.
Production material is particularly strong in the collection and an intention to obtain a comprehensive collection of Shakespeare's plays, both amateur and professional, had intensified from 1949 onwards. Today the collection is extensive and is made up of British and foreign items. There are over 6,000 photographs, 10,000 programmes and 15,000 playbills and an enormous collection of newspaper cuttings.
The Shakespeare Library has always placed considerable emphasis on acquiring foreign material. Today there is a renowned collection of resources in 93 languages.
The Shakespeare Memorial Room was created and built by John Henry Chamberlain in 1882 to display the splendid collection. It was designed in an Elizabethan style with carvings, marquetry and metalwork representing birds, flowers and foliage. Nearly all of the decorative work was done by local craftsmen. The room followed the fortunes and moves of the Central Reference Library, including plans for demolition in 1974 when only vigorous protests by the Victorian Society and several councillors had saved it.
The Shakespeare Collection has long ago outgrown its original setting and it's now housed in the Knowledge & Discovery Department of the new world class Library of Birmingham. The Shakespeare Memorial Room has found its rightful place at the very top of the modern new building as a symbol of the past, present and future of library services in the inspirational new cultural centre of the city.