Folger Library Reopens in November

After More Than Three Years, Folger to Open Doors On New Spaces This Fall

Folger's East Entry, aerial view. Image: KieranTimberlake/OLIN Courtesy Folger Shakespeare Library

The Hill is a village full of libraries. On November 17 one of the most prominent will reopen its doors after three years of renovations.

The Folger Shakespeare Library closed for construction March 2, 2020 –just before the pandemic struck the District.

The Folger was established in 1932 by Henry and Emily Folger as a gift to the American people, together with their collection of Shakespeare materials —the world’s largest such collection. It has since expanded its holdings to become a world-class research and resource center for Shakespeare studies with public outreach and education programs as well as productions by the Folger Theatre, concerts by the Folger Consort, readings at the O.B. Hardison Poetry Series, and the publication of the Folger Shakespeare Library editions, as well as myriad online resources.

Throughout the pandemic and the closure, the Folger has moved performances and offerings online and to other venues, including this month’s “Searching for Shakespeare” citywide festival in partnership with DC Public Library (DCPL).

The $80.5 million renovation project, designed by the Philadelphia-based architectural firm of KieranTimberlake creates a 12,000-square-foot public wing under the Folger’s  original Paul Philippe Cret 1932 building.

The new Adams Pavilion includes two large exhibition halls, a learning lab, expansive lobbies, a new gift shop, and enhanced accessibility throughout the building. The renovation is also adding collaborative research spaces, a café, social gathering spots inside and outside the building, and new gardens designed by landscape architect OLIN.

The new North and South Galleries will both be open to the public.

“The fact that many Washington historic buildings have solved their access problems by going underground is actually a positive for us,” Folger Director Michael Witmore told the Hill Rag as renovations began. “[W]e knew that to safely display precious items that would be damaged by light, we needed a way to lower the light and to step people down and into spaces that are quite intimate but also allow for really close contact with precious things.”

A new hall will display of all 82 of the Folger’s Shakespeare First Folios. Image: KieranTimberlake/OLIN, Courtesy Folger Shakespeare Library

A draw of the new space is certain to be the Folger’s first permanent Shakespeare exhibition. The Folger has 82 copies of the Folger’s Shakespeare First Folios—that’s more than a third of the known remaining copies—will be publicly displayed together for the first time in a 20-foot-long vault and surrounded by interactive experiences inviting visitors of all ages to explore Shakespeare, his works and world and their connection to the present.

The new pavilion will include gift shop and washroom facilities supporting the galleries and the theatre, as well as two elevators that will provide accessibility within the building, including to the theatre balconies.

On the exterior, the building’s main entrances open to newly created East and West Public Gardens. A sloping walkway makes the plinth itself accessible so that visitors can see the nine famous bas reliefs along the façade.

Other highlights include Folger commissions of three contemporary artists: US Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winner Rita Dove has written a new poem that will welcome visitors into the west gardens. Renowned artist Fred Wilson, known for reframing cultural symbols that encourage viewers to reconsider social, racial, and historical narratives, is creating a piece to be displayed in conversation with the Folger’s 1579 “Sieve” portrait of Queen Elizabeth I.  And, innovative artist Anke Neuman, whose installations are created from artisan-made paper that includes optic fibers, is creating a paper light sculpture to hang in the stairwell connecting the new east entrance lobby and the historic theater lobby.

“After much planning and dedicated work, the Folger is opening to a wider world and an even more expansive vision of what Shakespeare, the humanities, and the arts can contribute,”  Witmore said in a press release. “This is a golden opportunity for us to reintroduce ourselves and welcome local, national, and international communities to the new Folger.”

Learn more about the Folger and its offerings by visiting