Sunday, 12 August 2012

Stratford Upon Avon

Stratford Public Library: Photo by Jenny Collins

Stratford Upon Avon probably sounds familiar to to...well most people. Its the birthplace of one William Shakespeare and also where he's buried. I actually found Stratford to be a very uncomfortable place. Like most people who come from an English Literature background, I love Shakespeare, I do I swear! Every time I go a few years without seeing Hamlet and see it again I'm reminded of how much of our literary cannon and our most common quotes come from him. He was a genius of a playwright. Not for me personally, but to many he's like a god. That's what Stratford feels like...a strange hybrid between Disney Land and a religious site.

That might seem like a strange comparison but here me out. People flock to Stratford like its a religious pilgrimage, the line to go into the home where Shakespeare was born was enormous, so too as the line to see his gave. But there are elements of the town that are also carnival-esque, people in the streets perform bits of the Bards plays, many dressed in costume. The main street has a feeling of artificiality to it, like its not a real place. It closes when the tourists leave and that leaves you wondering how the people who actually live there feel about the deification of the towns most famous resident. Rather than visiting a Shakespeare centric library I decided to take a temporary break from Willie and see what the Stratford public library was like.

In a street crowded with 16th century style homes, I thought that the interior of the library would match the ye olde exterior, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was wrong. The Stratford public library is very modern from its banks of 16 computers in the main entrance to its RFID check out system. The library is a Carnegie library and is part of the larger Yorkshire public library system. The facility is clean and modern with no displays extolling Shakespeare's values. There are ads for information literacy classes and local community interest groups.

All the shelves are wheeled, which allows them to be pushed back to make room for reading groups and other community activities that take place there. There is a large teen/young adult section, and there is a free ancestry look up service available for anyone who wishes to use it. Dewey Decimal is the cataloging system in place and it looks like there is space for continued expansion.

Grave of William Shakespeare: photo by Jenny Collins 

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