Following the death of Folger Director Joseph Quincy Adams in 1946, the trustees made ambitious plans to turn their still relatively new institution into a modern research center. In 1948, they appointed as director Louis B. Wright, who had just directed a similar transformation at the Henry E. Huntington Library in California. Under Wright, the Folger produced a better catalog, added general reference works, new underground storage, and office space, and installed central air-conditioning—a key improvement, given Washington’s hot summers. New publications for the general public included a popular newsletter, illustrated Folger Booklets on Tudor and Stuart Civilization, and the Folger's General Reader's Shakespeare—paperback editions of Shakespeare's works with accessible notes and illustrations from the Folger collection. Wright also continued Adams’s acquisitions program; by his retirement in 1968, the Folger had secured an additional 22,000 European books and some 19,000 English ones.
In 1969, the Amherst board of trustees once again appointed a new director with fresh ideas—O. B. Hardison, Jr., a professor of English literature from the University of North Carolina. After Hardison’s arrival, the Folger's Elizabethan Theatre, previously used mainly for lectures and tours, was transformed into a functioning playhouse for the newly formed Folger Theatre Group. The Folger recruited its first volunteer docents, making possible a new tradition of free walk-in tours for the public. Other initiatives included modern poetry readings, a new colloquium with universities called the Folger Institute, and a resident early-music ensemble, the Folger Consort. The journal Shakespeare Quarterly was also transferred to the library from the independent Shakespeare Association of America. In 1979, the Folger closed for a major renovation program, including the addition of the New Reading Room; at the same time, it mounted its first large-scale traveling exhibition, "Shakespeare: The Globe and the World."
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