Friday, July 22, 2011

Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive

A few of us visited the Shakespeare Library while in Stratford.  The library is housed in part of the Shakespeare Centre and consists of three small rooms.  The Centre contains a museum, library, archive and discovery area.  The library may have limited physical space, but it was a very busy spot when we visited, it does not lack patrons.  It is however rather short staffed with 3 employees: one librarian, one archivist and one reading room supervisor.  The entry room is comprised of the librarian’s desk, a bulletin board with information, and about a dozen small lockers for storing coats and bags.  The second room contains the card catalogs, which stretch around all the walls, and four computers for access to online resources.  The third and largest room is the reading room, which has a small section of browseable shelves and several open tables in the middle for patron use.

When we arrived we were greeted by the librarian Helen and she gave us a brief tour and history of the collection, as much as time allowed before she was called off to help a patron.  She seemed very nice and honored that we had chosen to visit.  She informed us that the Library uses its own classification system (ranging from 10-100); it’s not based on Dewey of Library of Congress.  Due to the library’s specialization this made sense, otherwise every item would have a huge string of numbers and letters attached to it to differentiate items. 

The Museum collection of the Centre contains over 11,000 objects, most of which date from the 16th to the 18th centuries.  The Archive contains production materials relating to the Royal Shakespeare Company.  The library collection has two foci: Shakespeare and Stratford.  The library houses over 60,000 modern books along with several thousand early printed books.  They own three First Folios and an early collection of Shakespeare’s poems.  Part of the collection contains books on medical and botanical works from Shakespeare’s day.  Approximately 10% of the collection is available to the public in the reading room; the rest is in the basement closed stacks.  General reference works, biographies, and criticism are in the reading room, as are the Arden, Oxford, and Cambridge editions of each play.  There is also a facsimile of the First Folio, so readers can get a feel for the rare item.

The Library still has physical card catalogs for its collections, and has only just begun digitizing.  It uses three catalogs each housed seperately: Shakespeare, local Stratford history, and photographs.  The archives department developed an online system, and in 2000 the library adopted the same system.  The most reliable way to search the catalog is to use the physical records since only the most recently acquired books are in the online catalog.  The archive and library do have an extensive image database.  Most of the items do not have shelf-marks; Helen’s predecessors did not see a reason to put them on the binding.  In 2009 Helen began introducing shelf-marks, to ease searching and retrievability of items.  The Library is in the process of digitizing the majority of its collection, but the process is slow.  The online catalogs can be found here:

The Shakespeare Library accepts donations both academic and popular in nature.  It is the official repository for the papers of the Royal Shakespeare Company.  However the RSC does not support the archive, either financially or in the preservation of its records.  The Library is responsible for cataloging and organizing everything the RSC gives them.  It has all the official recordings of RSC performances, and has a television and VCR/DVD player available for patron use for a small fee.  The staff members train and supervise volunteers who help with projects, they prepare displays for local educational purposes, and aid and assist patrons who want to use their resources.   

Although they are a small staff with limited resources and time they make the most of what they do have.  They are involved with using electronic means of communication to try and broaden their patron base.  The Library tries to reach out to all levels of Shakespeare fans, through various Trust endeavors. They have a Finding Shakespeare Blog: 
The Library partnered with the BBC on the hour length show Stealing Shakespeare (narrated by David Tennant).  The library is on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

For those who may be interested here are a couple of links to some of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust websites:
multiple blog topics for Shakespeare lovers-
and for more information about the library, archives and educational resources-

I was impressed by all that the staff have accomplished and I really appreciated that Helen took the time to give us a quick tour and some background information.  She didn't seem bothered by our questions or taking notes, and seemed happy to discuss the library with LIS students.  During our short visit about a half dozen patrons used the library, and a couple more folks arrived just as we were leaving.  The Library may be small in terms of physical size and personnel, but it is still a very important repository for Shakespeare materials.  The staff are utilizing electronic resources and digital media to maintain contact with users around the world, and are remaining a part of the global Shakespeare network.

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