Historic reading room must go

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The Independent Online
THE DOME of the historic Round Reading Room at the British Museum yesterday dwarfed the figures of the architect Sir Norman Foster and Dr Robert Anderson, the museum's director. The reading room, where Charles Dickens, Bernard Shaw and Karl Marx read and researched is to become an information centre and reference library as part of a pounds 100m development plan, writes David Lister.

Sir Norman has been chosen as the consultant architect for the plan, announced yesterday by the museum's trustees. They intend to keep the design of the room but to change its function. The decision represents a defeat for campaigners including Lords Carrington and Jenkins of Hillhead and the former Labour leader Michael Foot, as well as academics including the philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin.

The Commons Heritage Select Committee recommended last week that the room, designed by Sidney Smirke and opened in 1857, should be kept open in perpetuity as a public reading room integral to the British Library. The library, at present housed in the British Museum in Bloomsbury, will move to its new site at St Pancras over the next few years. Brian Lake, secretary of the Regular Readers' Group, said yesterday that the campaign would continue to keep the Round Reading Room as the British Library reading room after the move.

However Dr Anderson said that it limited access to the museum to have the use of the Reading Room restricted to a 'privileged few'. He added: 'It must be one of the best- known rooms in this country, which, at the same time, has been one of the least visited.'

Dr Anderson also signalled that the British Museum would eventually make some effort to remove staff cars from its 19th-century forecourt, as argued in the Independent campaign to remove parked cars from public spaces adjoining important buildings.

Details, page 5

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