British Museum Reading Room

Infobox Historic building
name = British Museum Reading Room

caption = The Reading Room stands in the centre of the Great Court of the British Museum, which now has a glass roof designed by Norman Foster.
location_town = Bloomsbury, London
location_country = United Kingdom
architect = Sydney Smirke
client =
engineer =
construction_start_date =
completion_date = 1857
date_demolished =
cost =
structural_system =
style =
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. 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, and the surface that makes up the ceiling is a type of papier-mâché. 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.

Famous readers

The Reading Room was used by a large number of famous figures, including notably Mohammad Ali Jinnah [ jinnah of Pakistan page 13, stanley wolpert] ,Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde, Mahatma Gandhi, Rudyard Kipling, George Orwell, George Bernard Shaw, Lenin, Norbert Elias, Arthur Rimbaud and H. G. Wells. [citation|title=Footprint England |author= Charles Godfrey-Faussett|publisher=Footprint Travel Guides|url=|id=ISBN 1903471915]

Current use

Following the collection's move to the new site, the old Reading Room was opened to the public in 2000, following a renovation and addition of a gridshell roof by noted architect Norman Foster. It contains a collection of books on history, art, travel, and other subjects relevant to the British 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 has involved building a new floor above the existing reading desks.

References in art and popular culture

The British Museum Reading Room has become iconic. It is the subject of an eponymous poem, "The British Museum Reading Room", by Louis MacNeice. Much of the action of David Lodge's 1965 novel "The British Museum Is Falling Down" takes place in the old Reading Room.

Alfred Hitchcock used the Reading Room and the dome of the British Museum as a location for the climax of his first sound film "Blackmail" (1929). Other movies with key scenes in the Reading Room include "Night of the Demon" (1957) and "The Ipcress File" (1965).Fact|date=September 2008 In the 2001 Japanese anime OVA "Read or Die", the Reading Room is used as the secret entrance to the British Library's fictional "Special Operations Division".


External links

* [ British Museum Reading Room information]
* [ BBC information]

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