The British Museum’s New Look
BY AWAKE! WRITER IN BRITAIN
London’s British Museum welcomes close to six million visitors every year. About a year ago, it gained 40 percent more space to accommodate these crowds. How was this possible?
The British Museum library and the British Museum were opened to the public in 1759. The present building housing them was completed in 1852. But in 1997, the library, known as the British Library, moved to new premises nearby, taking with it 12 million printed books and tens of thousands of manuscripts and seals. This move paved the way for the British Museum to expand by opening up the central courtyard—hidden from the public for almost 150 years!
The focal point of the now vacated courtyard, called the Great Court, was the domed Reading Room. Since its inception in 1857, this Reading Room has been a haven for researchers from across the world. Mohandas Gandhi, Charles Darwin, and Karl Marx are just some of the well-known people who have worked in the quiet privacy of this prestigious library. This room has been opened to the general public for the very first time. It now houses the museum’s own collection of 25,000 volumes.
The dome of this historic room has been restored. The Great Court, including the Reading Room, is now covered by a magnificent ceiling that weighs 800 tons. It is a steel frame studded with 3,312 triangles of glass, the size of each piece having been carefully calibrated by computer.
In the Reading Room, the British Museum now offers computer access to thousands of its priceless treasures. The Times of London called the remodeled facilities a masterpiece. Visitors enthusiastically agree!
[Picture Credit Lines on page 31]
Center top and bottom: Copyright The British Museum; all others: Copyright Nigel Young/The British Museum