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Oxford academics slam plans for Bodleian as a 'tourist trap'

A bitter row is brewing in the otherwise genteel quads of Oxford University. A group of distinguished Oxford academics, including architectural historians and archaeological experts, has risen up in outrage against the university's own plans to turn its historic Old Bodleian Library into a 'tourist attraction' and massively increase the number of paying visitors coming through its doors.

The Bodleian's director of library services, Reg Carr, has unveiled proposals to make widespread changes to the building's Grade I-listed fabric and introduce new interactive terminals in order to boost paying visitors to the library - from the current levels of fewer than 6,000 per year to 115,000, to celebrate the Bodleian's 400th anniversary next year.

But objectors feel the numbers are unrealistic.

The £1.5 million plans, drawn up by the university's surveyors and professional visitormanagement consultants - dubbed 'vandals' and 'worse than the Taliban' - have been submitted to Oxford City Council for planning consent. But academics, locals and readers at the library have raised fierce objections to changes to the building.

They fear that 'heritage clutter', more noise and higher nuisance levels will result in less, not more, access for members of the public, who should be allowed to come in and 'gawp' for free.

The scheme at this stage includes breaking a new doorway into the south wall of the 17th century Great Gate to make a separate tourist entrance, and demolishing internal walls, including a pierced opening in the 17th century music school, to create space for a relocated shop. The plans also call for the creation of a 'Bodleian Story' exhibition, with interpretative panels - described by critics of the scheme as 'theme-park furniture' which would be 'totally alien' in Oxford.

The university is seeking a grant of £870,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to support the project, which is conditional on planning permission, while the university expects to raise money through the project by charging the public up to £12.50 a time for tours.

However, objections intensified this week as academics contacted the AJ before the consultation period ends on 26 October. 'I think it's a dreadful scheme, ' said Professor Martin Biddle, the university's professor of mediaeval archaeology. Professor Biddle is also head of a consultancy which advises Canterbury Cathedral and St Albans Abbey on such matters. He told the AJ he thought the scheme was 'very risky'.

Edward Wilson, an Oxford fellow in medieval English literature, said he was 'appalled' and failed to see how the university could not find money for book purchases, but could do so for 'such twaddle'.

And eminent architectural historian Sir Howard Colvin is also enraged by the proposals.

In a letter to the Oxford Magazine, he slammed the 'highly objectionable' elements and was particularly incensed by a large architectural model surrounded by liquid-crystal computer screens, proposed to be built in the centre of the divinity school - 'one of the supreme monuments of English Gothic architecture'.

Carr was unavailable for comment but has written that the Bodleian's founder, Sir Thomas Bodley, himself was a great innovator, with 'imaginative ambitions' for the library.

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