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We, the Ark Explorers, are a team of young people recruited to check the workings of Shakespeare in the Grand Shakespeare Memorial Library. Although we have the fruits of Shakespeare, unfortunately the library isn't widely known. We wish that the library was accessed by more people. Originally our trip begain in summer where we met some individuals who were interested in sharing the library with us. Only 20% of the group knew about the Shakespeare Library before! We explored the library's archives which included books, posters and programmes! We hope our research can get people excited about the Shakespeare Memorial Library! Yours faithfully, Ark Explorers

In this presentation, we hope to showcase how we were inspired by the Everything to Everybody project at the Shakespeare Library to think about our experiences of culture, diversity and heritage as secondary school pupils in Birmingham. We were interested in how our knowledge of Shakespeare and his legacy could be relevant today, and we tackled a number of key questions:


  • Who was Shakespeare?
  • What is the E2E project and why is it important to Birmingham?
  • What is the Shakespeare library?
  • How were we inspired by E2E?
  • How could we showcase our research and encourage other young people to visit the library?




Shakespeare is a well-known English play-write, poet, and actor. He was born in the year 1564 and died 1616. He wrote many plays such as The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet. We often study Shakespeare's plays and poems in school, but we have not thought about how or why we study them.

What Has Shakespeare Represented?

The project is important as it helps us to consider what ideas have influenced what we learn about in school. When we thought about Shakespeare, we thought about lots of different things. These things were challenged and widened when we saw the materials from the archive at the Library of Birmingham.

English lessons

School plays

The Globe in London

Difficult language


Romeo and Juliet

Tudor Times

Olden days


Birmingham History


Family History

All ages

Cultural diversity

Can be used to reflect on modern times.


What is E2E?

The 'Everything to Everybody' project invited us to think about how, why and where we interact with Shakspeare in our day to day life as citizens of Birmingham. It is inspired by the work of the pioneering Birmingham thinker, George Dawson, who sought to improve Birmingham for the people. The project's goals are to:

  • Unlock the first, oldest and largest Shakespeare collection in any public library in the world
  • Revive and extend its founding principle that culture should be actively owned by everybody
  • Inspire Birmingham people and communities to explore, interrogate and improve the collection now
As a result, we were inspired to reconsider the role of Shakespeare in our lives; at home, school and the community.

George Dawson

1821 to 1876

'Civic Gospel'

George Dawson was a non-conformist preacher who played a prominent role in Victorian Birmingham. He developed what is known as the Civic Gospel. This was a dedication to improving Birmingham so that the people living there could have a better quality of life. It involved a commitment to transforming public attitudes towards education and culture. For example, Dawson advocated for free education and founded the Birmingham Shakespeare Memorial Library. Crucially, the library was accessible to all the people in Birmingham and Dawson used the phrase ‘Everything to Everybody’ to encapsulate this. Eventually, the library obtained one of the rare Shakespeare ‘first folios’ and it was made accessible to all of the people in Birmingham. This is because Dawson’s philosophy championed making cultural and educational resources available to all members of the community.

The Birmingham Shakespeare Library

One way in which people tried to encapsulate the ‘everything to everybody’ mantra was by making the city’s Shakespeare collection accessible to the public. The Shakespeare memorial room was created and designed to house the Shakespeare memorial library by John Henry Chamberlain in 1882. He was responsible for re-building the old central library after the original building was gutted by a fire in 1879.There is evidence of people from all walks of life accessing the library, including working class people who we may not have expected to have been granted access to such materials if it was not for the influence of the civic gospel.

We went on an exciting trip to the Shakespeare library. Despite many of us living in Birmingham for most of our lives, none of us had visited before. We were inspired by what we saw and learnt, especially about the collection’s large array of texts, posters and scripts in different languages. It was clear that Shakespeare was more than just a stereotypically ‘British’ figure. We found out that due to a large fire many of the precious Shakespeare books were destroyed. Only 500 out of 7,000 books survived – but Birmingham was determined to rebuild. The Birmingham Shakespeare Collection now has an amazing variety of resources, with over 100,000 items from productions from across the world.

Shakespeare around the world

We were excited to learn that Shakespeare's plays are taught, performed and enjoyed worldwide. We were able to see posters, playbills, scrapbooks and scripts from different time periods and languages. The collection has pieces in 94 different languages including German, Chinese and Braille. Shakespeare's work has been enjoyed worldwide from as early as the 17th century in the shape of travelling players. They went from England to the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and Poland. Here is a photo of a production in New Delhi, India.

This made us think about how Shakespeare has been used to express opinions, politics, communities and cultures across time...

The first Black actor to play Othello

A German scrapbook

A family's collection

Shakespeare posters in different languages

Translations allow people to enjoy Shakespeare in different languages. This means that a much wider range of people can read the plays and poems and make them their own. This is a production photo of Othello, from Nairobi, Kenya featuring Stephen Mwenesi.

However, it is important to consider what influences how a text is translated:

  • The language skills of the person who translated
  • The words available in each language. This is because many languages do not directly cross over with each other.
  • The cultural and emotional experiences of the translator, this may effect how they interpret phrases or words.
  • The original script: Shakespearean English is different to contemporary English, therefore, lots of different decisions have to be made whilst translating.

Dawson's 'Everything to Everybody' mantra was, therefore, important to consider. This is because there were limits to 'everything' and 'everybody', especially during the 19th century. As well, interactions with Shakespeare have been influenced by various factors over time. For example, during the colonisation of India by the British, Shakespeare was taught in schools in order to assert an idea of 'British superiority'. This has to be kept in mind when looking at Shakespeare across the world today.

Women may not have visted the library due to domestic responsibilities.

Illiterate people may not have accessed the library.

People of Colour may have experienced discrimination.

Case Study: The Forrest Family

The Forrest Family were from Manchester and they created a scrapbook with alternative versions of Shakespeare Plays. One technique they used was cutting up existing plays to make new ones. When we visited the library we found some scrapbooks created by the Forrest family. Members of the family had coloured in illustrations of Shakespearean plays and created drawings of their own. We wondered if the family enjoyed Shakespeare together, as the colouring looked like it had been done by children.

One of the pieces that stood out to us in the archive was a scrapbook created by the Forrest Family.

Case Study: The Forrest Family

However, despite consulting the library, internet and Manchester Archive we were unable to find out any more information about them. This sparked some important questions - We were interested in how different families and different communities interacted with Shakespeare over the years, especially here in Birmingham.

How many people have enjoyed these texts without it being documented?

How have our families been influenced by Shakespeare?

How can we make sure our interactions are documented in the future?

How the library inspired us

All of these aspects inspired and informed our project. We decided to represent our experience working with the Birmingham Shakespeare Library through a stall at our summer fete. We made...

  • Posters: We wanted to make eye catching posters for other young people to see in the library. We thought that a poster trail could motivate them to visit the Shakespeare library.
  • A Scrapbook: Like the Forrest Family, we wanted to show how we interacted with Shakespeare. Our scrapbook included the research we conducted, messages from people that attended our school fete and letters that we drafted to the library.
  • A Paper Chain: To highlight the diversity of our own community, we created a paper chain of languages spoken at our school. Asking people about what languages they spoke led to interesting discussions about culture and heritage.
  • An Informative Quiz: Our quiz was designed to engage young people through healthy competition whilst teaching them more about the project.

What we made

Quiz Time!

How many books were saved in the Birmingham library fire?

A - 400


B - 296


C - 500


DID YOU KNOW Did you know in the Birmingham Shakespeare collection there was over 6000 photographs, 10000 programmes and 15000 playbills?

DID YOU KNOW Did you know in the Birmingham Shakespeare collection there was over 6000 photographs, 10000 programmes and 15000 playbills?

What caused the Shakespeare library fire?

A - A worker knocked over a lamp

You got it!

B - Arson


C - The sun

Afraid not!

How old was the Shakespeare library when it burned down?

A - 9


B - 10

Try again!

C - 11


How much did a folio sell for in October 2020?

A - $6.841 million

Try again!

B - $9.978 million

Woo! You got it!

C -$4.444 million

I'm afraid not!

DID YOU KNOW There is over 44,000 books/plays in the Birmingham Library?

DID YOU KNOW There is over 44,000 books/plays in the Birmingham Library?

Who had the idea to build the Shakespeare library?

A - Robert Besley


B - George Dawson


C - Ian Ward


When was the Shakespeare library founded?

A - 1874


B - 1880


C - 1868


When did the Birmingham library catch on fire?

A - 1869


B - 1879


C - 1884


DID YOU KNOW Did you know the University of Birmingham and Birmingham City Council invested £1 million?

DID YOU KNOW Did you know the University of Birmingham and Birmingham City Council invested £1 million?

Shakespeare was born on the ...

A - 26th April

Try again!

B - 23rd April

Woo! You got it!

C -22nd March

I'm afraid not!

Click here for the Everything to Everybody website - where you can find more great resources!

DID YOU KNOW Shakespeare died on the same date when he was born!!

Thank you for reading!