I was lucky to have been a docent at the Portland Public Library in March while Shakespeare’s First Folio was on exhibit. It was a pleasure to meet and talk with people who came from near and far to see the book – Shakespeare fans, rare-book enthusiasts, actors, students, avid readers, theatergoers and the many library patrons who simply dropped by to see what the fuss was about.

When I realized, on a quick trip to New York last week, that the New-York Historical Society had a Folio on display, I was curious to see how its exhibit and presentation would differ from the Portland Public Library’s. I couldn’t have been more disappointed.

In New York, the Folio sits in its glass display, stuck in a hallway with just a guard standing nearby admonishing people not to lean on the case. There is no docent to engage visitors and no sense that this book is anything important – no way of understanding how it came to be (including how it was typeset and printed, which is fascinating) and no real way of grasping its rarity or significance.

I am genuinely proud of our library’s effort to make the display of the Folio so meaningful – and also that, while New Yorkers can see the Folio only by paying admission to the historical society, visitors in Portland had a much richer and more interesting experience at no charge. There is something that’s fundamentally more democratic (small “d”) about that.

Ellen D. Murphy