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Sunday, October 26, 1997


Chapter closes on historical reading room

Provided inspiration for generations of writers

The famous domed Round Reading Room at the British Museum in London is closing down.

For 140 years, it ha
s provided inspiration to generations of writers, including Karl Marx and George Bernard Shaw.

Budding writers and scholars have flocked to the building, which has become part of Britain's heritage.

[ image: New library dogged by controversy]
New library dogged by controversy
Its collection is unrivalled, with a catalogue of every book published in Britain. Its archive of books is said to reflect 1,000 years of knowledge, providing an index to a nation's history.

The closure has been described by some as wanton destruction and by others as the end of an era.

"You walk in there and it's like a world of its own within the world. It's world-shaped, dome shaped and it's like being in a great brain. Virginia Woolf described it so. It's magical," said the author, David Lodge.

[ image: Thousands of books moving to a new home]
Thousands of books moving to a new home
Priceless manuscripts and documents are being moved to the new purpose-built British Library at St Pancras in London.

It is due to open next month. Its design has met with fierce controversy, with construction costs spiraling from £160 milllion to over £500 million.

Critics say it cannot hope to match the facilities available at the British Museum.

"We fully expect to be delivering books in half an hour in our new building, where currently it takes us two hours on this site," said Michael Crump of the British Library.

The Reading Room was opened in May 1857. It was the brainchild of Antonio Panizzi, keeper of the then Department of Printed Books of the British Museum, which later merged with other libraries to form the British Library.

It is due to reopen in 2001 as a library related to the British Museum's collection and will be open to the public.

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