Reading room to open its doors in pounds 100m redesign: The centre of study used by Dickens, Shaw and Marx is to be made less reverential and more accessible. David Lister reports

THE FAMOUS Round Reading Room under its 140ft dome at the British Museum, where Dickens, Shaw and Marx studied, will become an information and exhibition centre and public reference library, as part of a pounds 100m development plan published yesterday.

The plan, which involves radical changes to one of Britain's top tourist attractions under consultant architect Sir Norman Foster, also means that campaigners to keep the Round Reading Room as a centre of study for British Library cardholders, its original purpose, have lost their battle.

It also flies in the face of the recommendation last week by the House of Commons heritage select committee that the reading room should maintain its present function for British Library readers on its present site.

Instead, when the library moves out of the museum to St Pancras, the reading room, in the words of British Museum director Dr Robert Anderson, will be 'divided in two', with one part an information centre about galleries and exhibits elsewhere in the museum, and the other part a reference library, which would be modelled on a normal public library reference area, with books on shelves on the wall rather than being specially delivered from stores.

In its new guise, the historic Round Reading Room will lose some of its reverential atmosphere. Dr Anderson and the museum's trustees emphasised that the new plan for the reading room would keep its famous design and character, but would give unlimited access, as opposed to being 'just for the privileged few' who hold British Library reader cards.

Last night, Brian Lake, secretary of the Round Reading Room Regular Users Group, said: 'This proposal makes no sense. It is a reading room and we now have the heritage select committee saying it should stay the British Library reading room for perpetuity.'

He added that campaigners, who include Michael Foot, Lord Carrington, Lord Jenkins, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton and the philosopher, Sir Isaiah Berlin, would continue to press for it to retain its function.

At the centre of the 10-year plan - the most ambitious development undertaken by any museum in Britain - is the Great Court, the grand inner quadrangle conceived in the 1820s by Sir Robert Smirke, the museum's architect, and the size of one and a half football pitches. This inner courtyard was later obscured by the construction of the Round Reading Room and its associated book stacks.

The departure of the British Library, which will release 40 per cent of the museum's building in Bloomsbury, will give the opportunity to restore something of the architect's original concept, and, for the first time, will allow the general public easy movement at ground level throughout the museum.

Key features of the development plan are: restoration of the Great Court by demolishing the redundant book stacks outside the Round Reading Room; and refurbishment and redecoration of all the great public rooms on the ground floor, including the 100-yard-long King's Library.

The plan also provides for the most technologically advanced education complex in Britain, including new lecture theatres, seminar rooms and other facilities, and the return to Bloomsbury of the ethnographic collections moved to the Museum of Mankind in 1970.

Sir Norman's winning design beat a shortlist that included Arup Associates and Rick Mather Architects.

Sir Norman said: 'Enclosing the inner courtyard with an elegant roof responds to the Smirke facades and reading room. This will provide protection from the elements and transform the courtyard into a central focus for the museum. By constructing ramps around the reading room, a pleasurable dialogue between old and new can be established, leading the visitor to the upper-level galleries. Vital new accommodation within the courtyard is provided in elliptical form, a considered sculptural foil to both the rectangular courtyard and circular reading room.'

The plan faces two hurdles. First, there is still no firm date for the British Library to leave the museum and move into its much-delayed new building. Second, much of the money will have to come from the Millennium Commission, funded by the National Lottery, which will face many other demands. But Lord Windlesham, chairman of the trustees, and Sir Claus Moser, chairman of the BM's Development Trust, were confident the money would be raised.

The architect Michael Hopkins, a trustee who was on the selection panel, said: 'At the moment the first thing you get is the restricted access of the reading room. We need somewhere for the children to be able to write up their notes and eat their lunch. And we need to clarify the building and make it comprehensible. Visitors need to know where they are and where they want to go]

(Photograph omitted)

News
people

Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
News
videoWatch Lynda Bellingham's tragic final Loose Women appearance
Arts and Entertainment
The last great picture - Winner 'Black and White' and overall 'Wildlife Photographer of the Year'
art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
High notes, flat performance: Jake Bugg
music

Review: Despite an uphill climb to see Jake Bugg in action, his performance is notably flat

News
The Putin automaton will go on sale next month in Germany
videoMusical Putin toy showing him annexing Crimea could sell for millions
News
news

Powerful images of strays taken moments before being put down

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 pose for Children in Need 2001
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Right Here' singer Jess Glynne is nominated for Best Newcomer at the MOBO Awards 2014
musicExclusive: Jess Glynne hits out at 'ridiculous' criticism of white artists nominated for Mobo Awards
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voices

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Brand has written a book of political analysis called Revolution
books

Review: Witty banalities aside, the comedian has an authentic voice

Arts and Entertainment
Separated at birth? Frank Sivero (left) claims The Simpsons based Mafia character Louie on his Goodfellas character
arts + entsFrank Sivero sues Simpsons studio over allegedly basing mobster character on Frank Carbone
News
Carl Bernstein (left) and Bob Woodward (right) with former 'Washington Post' executive editor Ben Bradlee
people

The Washington Post editor helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein bring down President Nixon

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Science Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Science teacher requi...

Deputy Head of Science

£36000 - £60000 per annum: Randstad Education Southampton: Our client are a we...

IT Teacher

£22000 - £32000 per annum + TLR: Randstad Education Southampton: Our client is...

Database Administrator

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: The role could involve w...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London