Invitation to a private view of the Round Reading Room
The British Museum, London, England, 5 May 1857
Three days after the opening
By the early 1850s the British Museum Library badly needed a larger reading room. Antonio Panizzi, the Keeper of Printed Books (1837-56), had the idea of building a round room in the central courtyard of the Museum building. The rest of the courtyard would be filled with stacks (shelving) for the Library's thousands of books.
The Reading Room was begun in 1854 and opened on 2 May 1857 with a 'breakfast' (including champagne and ice cream) laid out on the desks where the catalogues were kept.
This ticket for a private view on 5 May 1857 includes a plan of the room. In the centre is the raised desk where the Superintendent sat. From there he could look along the lines of readers' desks which are arranged like the spokes of a wheel.
Around the outside of the Round Reading Room were the bookstacks. They were made of iron to take the great weight of the books and to protect them against fire. They contained three miles (4.8 kilometres) of bookcases and twenty-five miles (forty kilometres) of shelves.
The Library itself (now the British Library) has moved to another building in St Pancras, and the bookstacks have been taken down, but the Round Reading Room still stands at the heart of the Museum.