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Revamp is well under way to create public space at Bodleian Library
Buy this photo » The view across Broad Street
A world-famous Oxford centre of learning has had its heart ripped out.
But book fans should not despair – the Bodleian Library is undergoing a £78m revamp.
Once home to 3.5m books, including some of the most precious in existence, the New Bodleian Library has now been substantially demolished.
A 120ft crane has replaced the 11-storey bookstore in the centre of the building that Sir Giles Gilbert Scott created in the 1930s in Broad Street, opposite the Sheldonian Theatre.
The celebrated artist built the vast Oxford library as a fortress. But it has now succumbed to modern demolition equipment, with 6,500 tonnes of rubble, concrete and masonry removed, along with 80 tonnes of asbestos and 1,000 tonnes of steel from the vast central stack.
From the top of the building last week, it was clear that not much more than the outer walls has survived.
In two years time, the New Bodleian will reopen as the Weston Library. As well as providing a secure and environmentally advanced place to store treasures including four of the surviving copies of Magna Carta, two Shakespeare First Folios, the original manuscript of Frankenstein, the papers of six British Prime Ministers and more than 10,000 medieval manuscripts, it is destined to become a new Oxford visitor attraction.
In addition to providing improved reading rooms for scholars, and space for millions of books, the new library will enable Bodleian treasures to go on public display.
There are already early signs of what is to come. It is possible now to see what the frontage on Broad Street will look like, even without glass installed.
Behind it will be a large entrance hall, with a cafe and the exhibition rooms beyond.
John Duffy, the Bodleian’s assistant project officer, who has worked at the library for 35 years, has fond memories of the “old New Bod” but is not sorry to see it go.
He said: “We had a 1930s building with 1930s conditions.
“It did not meet current British standards in terms of fire protection and conservation.
“Standards change and in order to keep our status and to look after our collections properly we had to upgrade.
“But this really offered an opportunity to go back to the drawing board, and provide exhibition space that will allow us to open the doors to the public for the first time.”
With the central stack removed, there will be three floors of secure storage below ground, and floors dedicated to conservation and curation.
Where walls have come down, the original stone has been preserved. Wooden skirting and even the aluminium window frames will remain.
The wood-panelled Commonwealth Reading Room is also being conserved and carefully restored.
Stewart Basham, project manager with the construction company Mace, said: “With the exception of the listed element, the building has been stripped to the bare bone. Where possible original material has been put away, and will be restored and the original furniture and doors will all be returned.”
Some 80km of shelving has been removed with 170,000 man hours put in so far.
It will be unrecognisable from the original building with its eleven-floor book stack housing millions of volumes, connected to the old Bodleian by an underground conveyor belt.
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