MANALAPAN, NJ – Shakespearean theater and poetry, Food for Fines, and even an Italian language book discussion are all highlights within the Monmouth County Library system in celebration of National Library Week beginning April 10 and continuing through April 16.

“The theme of this year’s national celebration is “Libraries Transform,” said Renee Swartz, chairperson of the Monmouth County Library Commission, “and the variety of activities, programs and entertainment our library system offers on a daily basis certainly carries out that theme.”

First sponsored in 1958, National Library Week is a national observance sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA) and set aside as a time to celebrate the contributions of all libraries, whether they are school, public, academic and special. The week also celebrates and recognizes the librarians, users, administrators and Friends groups who all make valuable contributions towards education, recreation, entertainment and relaxation.

Concerned that Americans were reading less in the mid-1950s, the ALA and American Book Publishers formed a citizens’ organization, the National Book Committee, in 1954 to encourage people to read more in their increasingly larger leisure time. The theme of the first National Library Week was “Wake Up and Read.”

Today, nearly 75 years later, libraries offer more than books, provide live theater and music, highlight specific notable persons or events, and invite the public to present their own programs of general interest.   “Since this year’s celebration coincides with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, it seemed only proper to highlight the Bard during the national celebration,” Swartz said. As a result, branch managers have designed and are offering a broad variety of activities to entertain and educate people of all ages on the importance and sheer entertainment of Shakespeare in literature.

The Library is once again continuing its Food for Fines program during Library Week, providing bins at each of the branches for non-perishable canned, boxed or paper goods which will then be distributed to local food banks. Patrons owing fines for overdue items can reduce their fines by a dollar per donated food item brought to the library between April 10 and April 16. All library patrons are invited to donate canned goods to help the needy throughout the entire month as the Library participates in the Monmouth County Food Drive.

As part of the award-winning series, Literature of World Languages: A Public Forum for Multilingual Book discussions, Joanne Bisagna Villafane will lead a discussion on “L’amica Genial (My Brilliant Friend) by Elene Ferrante, on Sunday, April 10 at 3 p.m. at Headquarters. The book is also available at the library for readers.

Another highlight at the Shrewsbury branch of the library precedes National Library Week on Saturday, April 9. The Shrewsbury Historical Society and Monmouth County Genealogical Society, in cooperation with the library, are sponsoring a Monmouth County Book Faire on Saturday, April 9, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Eastern Branch. Sixteen authors who have published books on Monmouth County will be present at the Branch to display their books, sign autographs and answer any questions from the public. Books will also be available for sale. Patrons will have the opportunity to meet and talk with writers who created stories of intrigue, education, travel, history and entertainment all related to Monmouth County. Included in the program are Monmouth County historian Randall Gabriellan, author of more than 40 books, Rumson’s Roberta Van Anda, and prolific writer and historian Joseph Grabas.
With more Shakespearean programs still in the process of being planned and implemented, the list of activities and programs is growing, Swartz continued, urging interested residents to keep in contact with their local branch to ensure they see the broad spectrum of ideas that is being presented.

As with all county library programs, there is no charge, all are invited to attend and participate. There is no registration required for any of the Shakespearean activities during April.

As an example of the diversity being offered, Swartz cited the Shakespeare Live! presentation which will be at the Library Headquarters, 125 Symmes Dr, on Sunday, April 17 at 2 p.m.  The educational touring company of the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, located at Drew University, is a troupe of professional actors who will bring Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream to life and offer the audience a chance to ask questions after the play. The performance is family-friendly and geared to entertain everyone from as young as the fourth grade level.

Another highlight during the month is a series of movies or filmed stage versions of different Shakespearean plays offered daily beginning April 18 at Headquarters in Manalapan. The plays scheduled include both comedy and drama and offer plenty of opportunities to see movies made from Shakespeare plays. Films will be offered throughout the Library system and each of the branches can provide more information on scheduling.  

Also planned at the Library Headquarters is an evening presentation of Macbeth by Raconteur Radio, a production company that stages theatrical presentations of vintage radio plays and classic works of literature. Cited in the Newark Star-Ledger as one of the seven best things to do in New Jersey, and termed “Guerrilla Theater” by the New York Times, the production company features theatrical lighting, period costumes, vintage commercials, along with Golden Age radio equipment and unique sound effects.  This program will begin at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 21.

A Play a Day during the week of April 17, expanding the National Library Week celebrations,  will be a 2 p.m. feature at the Headquarters Library, highlighting both comedy and drama films of, by and about Shakespeare.

Programs at the Eastern Branch, Route 35, Shrewsbury, include classic films of several of Shakespeare’s plays, offered Thursdays beginning April 7 at 7 p.m.    Exploring Shakespeare’s Sonnets, a discussion and presentation led by Chris Bogart, and Gregg Glory will begin at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 27. Bogart is a Jersey Shore Poets and Shakespearean scholar and Glory manages a micro-publishing house, Blast Press. The program, besides presenting ‘dueling’ Shakespearean sonnets, will also include audience participation on sonnets.

Shakespeare 101 with John Dias, Artistic Director of the Two River Theater in Red Bank, will be at the Library Headquarters Monday, April 18, beginning at 7 p.m.  In addition to being the Artistic Director of Two River Theater, Dias is an expert on the work of Shakespeare and is a professor on Shakespeare at Columbia University. The program at the library will include context, history, and insight by Dias into the writer many consider the greatest playwright of all time. There will be discussions on how directors and designers make choices about sets and costumes, and how actors learn to speak Shakespeare’s heightened language in a way that makes it accessible to audiences. Whether a newbie or long time a devotee of the Bard, the evening guarantees a fresh appreciation of Shakespeare and his unforgettable work.  

At the Colts Neck branch, one of the Shakespearean inspired programs is a Shakespeare Poetry Workshop… “Poemo, Poemo, Wherefore Art Thou?” ... on Saturday, April 23, beginning at 2 p.m. Visitors are invited to write their own poetry as sonnets or a different verse; a variety of topics from the Bard’s writing will be suggested for the workshop.

Libraries will also be featuring Shakespeare-related displays, ranging from one on the author’s famous sayings, with a contest to match the individual sayings with the play in which it originated slated for Manalapan, to book displays, movies, and other highlights of Shakespeare’s works.

As if all of this doesn’t put sufficient accent on The Bard, a 2016 Shakespeare Competition is currently in the planning stages by the English-Speaking Union of Rumson. Open to all high school students, the competition is part of a nationwide read, analyze, perform and recite Shakespearean monologues and sonnets contest with ultimate winners at the school, community and national levels. The library at Headquarters is offering a venue for interested students to give their presentations on the stage.  Also in the planning stage is a presentation by the Theater Department of Red Bank Regional High School at the library.