British Museum Reading Room

April 16, 2013 by  

British Museum Reading Room, The British Museum Reading Room, situated in the centre of the Great Court of the British Museum, used to be the main reading room of the British Library. In 1997, this function moved to the new British Library building at St Pancras, London, but the Reading Room remains in its original form inside the new British Museum. Designed by Sydney Smirke on a suggestion by the Library’s Chief Librarian Anthony Panizzi, following an earlier competition idea by William Hosking, the Reading Room was in continual use from 1857 until its temporary closure in 1997.

The Reading Room’s domed roof is metal framed in segments, and the surface that makes up the ceiling is a type of papier-mâché.

During the period of the British Library, access was restricted to registered researchers only; however, reader’s credentials were generally available to anyone who could show that they were a serious researcher. The Reading Room was used by a large number of famous figures, including notably Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde, Friedrich Hayek, Bram Stoker, Mahatma Gandhi, Rudyard Kipling, George Orwell, George Bernard Shaw, Mark Twain, Lenin, Norbert Elias, Virginia Woolf, Arthur Rimbaud, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, and H. G. Wells.

Following the Library collection’s move to the new site, the old Reading Room was opened to the public in 2000, following renovation as part of the construction of the Great Court. It houses a modern information centre, the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Centre and a collection of books on history, art, travel, and other subjects relevant to the museum’s collections, on open shelves.

In 2006, the British Museum announced its plans to modify the Reading Room to house a temporary exhibition entitled ‘The First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Army’: this modification was designed by the London-based exhibition design company Metaphor. This has involved building a new floor above the existing reading desks. It will revert to its former use in 2012. Details of the exhibitions that have been held in the Reading Room are:

The general library for visitors (Paul Hamlyn Library) has moved to a room accessible through nearby Room 2, but will close permanently from 13 August 2011. This is an earlier library that has also had distinguished users, including Thomas Babington Macaulay, William Thackeray, Robert Browning, Giuseppe Mazzini, Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens.

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