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Authors praise British Library's inside storeys

Authors praise British Library's inside storeys

THE British Library's new building at St Pancras, which the Labour
MP Gerald Kaufman has called "as glamorous as a public lavatory", was
given wholehearted support from some of its regular users yesterday.
After discovering the spacious interior and wood and leather
furnishings within the drab, red-brick, windowless walls, several
remarked that a book cannot be judged by its cover. As the library
was preparing to open the humanities section of its L-shaped reading
room today, the first of several staggered openings, Lady Antonia
Fraser, David Lodge, Hermione Lee and Kathy Lette were among writers
given a preview. Lady Antonia, who visited with her playwright
husband, Sir Harold Pinter, said: "All along, I have been very
supportive of this country building a new national library. They have
done justice to it, despite incredible difficulties - mainly due to
the Treasury. "The moment we walked across the forecourt, we felt
the Paolozzi sculpture was a prelude to something very exciting.
Having worked in the Round Reading Room for 43 years - which I
neither wish to, nor can, forget - we have to look at the library in
a supportive manner and see how it can become part of our national
scholarship. I find it thrilling." Mr Lodge described it as "a very
impressive interior" and the actress Maureen Lipman said that
"everywhere you look is graceful". Andrew Morton, author of Diana:
Her True Story, hailed it as "a library for the new millennium" and
the writer Ms Lee called it "a great library". Others have been less
than enthusiastic. The Regular Readers pressure group, whose 600
members campaigned against the move to St Pancras, is maintaining its
fight to keep 60,000 rare books being moved from the King's Library
at Bloomsbury. Brian Lake, the group's secretary, said that the
listed building was built for George III's collection, donated by his
son, George IV. "Moveables" and "fixtures" are part of listed
buildings, he said, drawing on the argument used by those who tried
to keep Canova's Three Graces in the temple for which they were
designed at Woburn Abbey. The rare books, including a 1669 Book of
Common Prayer, a 1607 copy of Ben Jonson's Volpone and a 1476 Caxton
printing of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, are destined for a massive
tower of shelving viewed through frosted glass. Mr Lake said: "We
tried to persuade Camden council that they need to look at this more
carefully. They said it was not a matter for them, which is strange,
as they are responsible for listed buildings. The Georgian Group are
also against the moving of the books. We feel there is a legal case
to be made here." A library spokesman said that the collection was
donated in 1823 on condition that it remained intact on public
display. "They then built the King's Library to house it in that year
and finished it in 1827. We got the gift before the King's Library
was built," he said. "It will remain on public display." Even after
the British Library received =A3511 million from the public purse for
the new building, delays continue. The main public facilities, such
as the exhibition galleries and bookshop, will not open to the public
until April 21. Contents are being moved in stages: manuscripts, for
example, will be moved in March and scientific books in the summer of
1999. The operation of moving 12 million books is well under way.
But there are still another nine million books to go. By the time the
library is fully operational, storage space will be full. But John
Ashworth, chairman of the British Library Board, said that no
building could be large enough to cope with 8,000 items a day, even
with four levels of storage below ground, descending to 110ft. "There
is not enough space. Most libraries are full when they are built."
When the library was fully working, he said, books on site would be
delivered within 30 minutes, in contrast to waits in the previous
building of up to two hours. Earlier this month, he watched as a
sophisticated conveyer belt system transported books for the first
time along a series of rollers and up a shaft to the relevant floor.
After an experiment with lumps of concrete, it worked with the real
thing. "It's like a Wallace and Gromit railway," Dr Ashworth said.

Copyright 1997 The Times Newspapers Limited.

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