Case study: a new paywall platform for the Folger Shakespeare Library

Author: Ash Mann

The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC is the world’s largest Shakespeare collection. We started working with them in early 2020 (pre-pandemic!) to design and build a new digital platform for Folger Teaching, the online home for Teacher Members of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

This platform would showcase and control access to the rich learning tools and resources that the Folger Education have developed.

Access to the platform would be controlled via an integration with Tessitura, the Folger Shakespeare Library’s CRM and ticketing system, with users needing to hold a Teacher Membership and log in before they could download the resources.

The key challenges that the team at the Folger were looking to solve were focused on significantly improving the user experience in two areas, namely:

  • Logging in
  • Searching for resources

User experience and user benefits

The users accessing the platform are busy, time-poor education professionals. The Folger Education team pride themselves on helping teachers (many of them used to be teachers themselves) and the user experience of this key touchpoint needed to reflect that ethos. So reducing friction in key parts of the user experience was an overriding priority for us.

The key benefits of the new platform we have delivered are:

  • Simple login: The platform integrates with Tessitura and leverages TNEW’s Shared Session functionality to streamline and simplify the login process. Users no longer need to remember multiple login details (they log in using their Tessitura credentials) and users are automatically redirected to the right place on login (something which didn’t happen previously and regularly left users marooned and confused). This integration utilises our SmartLinks product to keep the login ‘alive’ as long as the user is on the site (we’ve previously written about SmartLinks in more detail in this journal post).
  • Useful account pages: the ability to favourite and curate resources was important, the Folger Education team have developed hundreds of different resources but teachers will frequently only be interested in one specific group. The favouriting functionality we built allowed Teacher members to easily curate and ‘save’ both individual and whole groups of resources to their account with a single click.
  • Quick, easy, flexible and useful search: the search functionality on the previous platform had been difficult to use and often returned irrelevant results, making it difficult for Teacher Members to find the things they needed. We worked closely with the Folger Education team to identify clear and useful taxonomies and keywording structures so that users could easily find the things that were most useful for them. As well as being able to search for individual resources we also developed new ‘collections’ functionality to allow Teachers to find and navigate groups of resources by topic
  • Shows the benefits of being a Member: the previous platform hid all the content behind a login, the experience we developed makes it much clearer exactly what purchasing a Membership will grant you access to and provides clear and straightforward ways for people to do that.

User feedback

But all of this work is only successful if it works for the users we’re designing for, the Folger Teacher Members, judge it to be.

So here’s what some of them have to say:

It is EXTREMELY user-friendly! The navigation, graphics, buttons, organization, etc is just great! I love how easy and “clean” the new site is!!!!
Mari O

We’re all on our computers more these days, and I find my frustration tolerance for tech is lower- I’m just tired of it! I appreciated how easy it was to find some things I wanted to explore immediately, and how effective the search function was.
Anne B

*Love* the ease of finding resources that are related to the play and the clarity of the section for non-Shakespeare material as well as Shakespeare and Race.
Rama J


What next?

The Folger Education team have been a joy to work with. This was a truly collaborative project, they were hugely engaged throughout – responding positively to our input on content design, language and user experience.

The vast improvements we’ve achieved together on this project has served as the basis for some exciting future digital thinking.

We love the look and feel of the sight and really appreciate Substrakt’s expertise about user experience! We learned a lot about how to streamline User Experience, minimize frustration points, etc.
Corinne Viglietta, Associate Director of Education – Folger Shakespeare Library

The entire process of building Folger Teaching was great. But I have to highlight the work done to improve the integration with Tessitura. This was one of our biggest pain points with our previous site and a must fix for this site.

The work Substrakt put into providing solutions to the integration and the user sign on experience is phenomenal. We are incredibly happy that our users have a single sign on experience and new Teacher Members are automatically redirected after completing their purchase. We love the look and the feel of the site and are excited for our users to experience Folger Teaching.
Katie Dvorak, Education Project Manager – Folger Shakespeare Library

If you have any questions about this work, or are exploring ways to control access to your digital content then get in touch: