April 1, 2015 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Shakespeare Library Makes the Bard Accessible

For 80 years, the staff at the Folger Shakespeare Library has worked to make the works of playwright William Shakespeare accessible to the masses.

Theyve adapted his works for a 21st-century audience by modernizing the language, the set design and the costumes in his plays to bridge the divide between Shakespeares complicated texts and their themes, many of which still resonate today.

But as the Folger celebrates its 80th anniversary, the staff is rethinking the meaning of accessibility, taking the librarys offerings and pushing them out through an increasing variety of social media channels, Web-based tools and even virtual classroom experiences, bringing the Folgers collection to a wider audience.

We now live in an era in which there are opportunities to transcend brick-and-mortar buildings or, in our case, a marble building and look at how we can be part of peoples lives who are interested in Shakespeare, who are interested in the English Renaissance, who are interested in the early modern period and how we can give them meaningful access [to the collection] if they cant come here to Washington to be with us, said Garland Scott, director of external relations at the Folger, reflecting on where the institution is moving after celebrating its milestone 80th anniversary in April.

Opened in 1932, the Folger Shakespeare Library was created through a gift from Henry Clay Folger, chairman of Standard Oil, and houses the largest collection of Shakespeares works in the world, as well as thousands of rare books and other materials from the Renaissance. The Folger also includes a working theater and has a host of educational programs and services for scholars studying the Renaissance and early modern period.

What I think is so interesting about the Folger is that we are a bridge between two worlds, Folger spokeswoman Amy Arden said. We are so focused on Shakespeare and the Renaissance, and then we are trying to make that talk to a 21st-century audience, which I think is really interesting. And we do it through plays, we do it through public programs, and more recently, we do it through social media YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, podcasts.

Arden, who helps run the Folgers Twitter accounts and blogs, says the Folger has been focusing largely on digital access to the collection and educational tools and offerings, working on creating YouTube videos that explain Shakespearian language and podcasts with scholars talking about the playwrights work.

Everyone here really recognized [the] power of the Internet, and so many more people come to us online than we can have in person, Arden said. 

Engage the Whole Person

The Folgers 80th anniversary falls on the one-year anniversary of Director Michael Witmores tenure. A Shakespearian scholar who is a pioneer in digitally analyzing Shakespeares works and only the seventh director in the Folgers history, Witmore says hes constantly thinking of new ways to create meaningful access to the collection. 

One such tool the Folger recently used is a virtual field trip, which allowed 300,000 students from across the country the chance to see the collection, learn about Shakespeare by watching live video from the Folger and ask questions and get immediate answers from the staff. 

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