ON 25 October 1997 the round Reading Room of the British Museum closed its doors to readers for the last time. One hundred and forty years after it was opened Antonio Panizzi most visible achievement ceased to serve the function for which it was erected, as the chief means of public access to the national collection of printed books. There can be, therefore, no more suitable moment to reflect on how and why this remarkable room came to be built and what this tells us in passing about both Panizzi and his contemporaries. Among these contemporaries not the least prominent was the Prince Consort and Panizzi, who, whatever his other faults, never undervalued himself, would surely consider it appropriate that he should be discussed in such exalted company.
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