Everything to Everybody

Working with multiple partners to revive Birmingham's Shakespeare Memorial Library, the world's first great Shakespearean library. 

The Everything to Everybody project aims to revive Shakespeare's Birmingham library


Research background

The Everything to Everybody project is a collaboration between the Shakespeare Institute and the Library of Birmingham, led by the Project Director Professor Ewan Fernie and the Operations Director Tom Epps.

It has been awarded £675,000 by The National Lottery Heritage Fund to open access to the collections and deliver an exciting programme of engaging events for people and communities across the city. The project is also being supported by History West Midlands.

BCU’s Reader in Literature and History, Dr Islam Issa is the project’s Advocacy and Engagement Consultant. He has so far focused on how to engage diverse communities in the project and has brokered significant partnerships for it with Canal and River Trust, the British Muslim Heritage Centre, the Muath Trust, and “local Banksy” Aerosol Ali.  He has also arranged dissemination opportunities and is co-supervising a PhD dedicated to the topic.

One of the founders of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Memorial Library was the radical preacher and lecturer, George Dawson (1821-1876). Dawson formulated the ‘everything to everybody’ ethos, which fuelled a significant movement for public welfare and cultural participation in nineteenth-century Birmingham: a major stimulus to the development of modern civic culture.

Historians have asked important questions about how inclusive Dawson’s vision and nineteenth-century Birmingham really were. In response to this, and to ongoing conversations about Black Lives Matter and the impact of Covid-19, the Everything to Everybody project will attempt to reopen Birmingham’s unique Shakespeare heritage with people and communities across the city, identifying historic barriers to inclusion and endeavouring to overcome them.

Research aims 

This project plans to revive the city’s almost-forgotten Birmingham Shakespeare Memorial Library, housed in the iconic Library of Birmingham - and the first great Shakespeare library in the world, as well as one which from the very beginning has belonged to all the people of the city.

The ‘Everything to Everybody’ Project aims 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

Islam presented an episode of BBC Radio 3’s ‘Free Thinking’ – Shakespeare for the People, in which he interviewed Ewan Fernie and renowned actor Adrian Lester about this project.