Right at the heart of the British Museum stands the Reading Room.
Completed in 1857 after three years of construction as a result of the Museum’s dire need for a larger reading room, the structure comprised of several of the greatest architectural technologies in-use during the mid nineteenth century. The Reading Room’s dome-shape design was purposeful – with the intention of serving as a nod to the famed Pantheon of Rome. With an interior lined with twenty-five miles of bookshelves, the structure functioned as a place for known scholars to expand their knowledge; a space that was visually reminiscent of the soil in which philosophical thought first laid down its roots.
Use of the Reading Room was offered only to those who applied in writing. Notable persons to have been granted a reader’s ticket – and therefore entry to the Reading Room – include Karl Marx, Lenin, Bram Stoker and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Despite its role within The British Museum, the Reading Room has barely changed in appearance. Since its initial construction, the structure has only undergone one major renovation. In 1997, as part of the Great Court renovations, the Reading Room was emptied of its books and plastered using fresh paper mâché, as well as a repaint that brought the original blue, cream and gold colour scheme back to the domed walls. These renovations also brought with them the addition of new technology. In 2000, a modern information centre was added and the Reading Room was opened to all visitors to the Museum.
In recent years, the British Museum Reading Room has still played a central role in the British Museum’s operations. From 2007 to 2013, the Reading Room played host to several special exhibitions, such as Shakespeare: Staging The World (19 July – 23 September 2012) and Life and Death: Pompeii and Herculaneum (28 March – 29 September 2013).
Despite these recent examples of use, the Reading Room is currently closed, pending a decision regarding its place in the future of the British Museum. However uncertain its future may be though, it is without a doubt that the Reading Room’s rich history and beautiful appearance will be revered and remembered by bibliophiles for centuries to come!
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