British Museum Reading Room Reopens to Public

William Warby/Wikicommons

The British Museum Reading Room

The British Museum in London has reopened its circular Reading Room for visitors with free short tours from July 23.

The Reading Room, which has a diameter of 42.6m (140ft), was built between 1854 and 1857 to a design by Sydney Smirke (1798–1877) using cast iron, concrete, and glass. Its fame rests on its dome, inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, with a ceiling made out of papier-mâché. Famous users of its three miles (4.8km) of bookcases and 25 miles (40km) of shelves have included Karl Marx, Lenin, Virginia Woolf, Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In 1997 the books were moved to the new purpose-built British Library building in St Pancras. 

The Reading Room has since been restored and reopened to house a modern information centre and a collection of 25,000 books, catalogues and other printed material. It was used for special exhibitions from 2007 until 2013 and currently houses the Museum's archive which is available for students and researchers to access.

The general public can now visit without requiring tickets when the museum is open, with free 20-minute tours every Tuesday at 11am and 12 noon. Each tour has a capacity of 20 people with places on a first-come, first-served basis. Photography will not be permitted in the Reading Room.