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Wednesday23 July 2014

Row breaks out over Purcell's Bodleian revamp

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Oxford University hits back at academic’s allegations

Oxford University has attempted to pour cold water on a row that erupted in the pages of the Times over Purcell’s plans to remodel the 275-year-old Radcliffe Camera.

The Bodleian’s chief librarian, Sarah Thomas, said the protests were little more than a one-woman campaign led by a Cambridge academic who lives in Oxford.

She said fewer than 10 people had objected to the proposals which have already been approved by Oxford council – before a six-month public consultation ended this weekend.

But Gillian Evans, an emeritus professor of medieval theology and intellectual history, told the Times she was concerned by the changes to a “national icon” and accused the university of conducting a last-minute consultation on the final proposals. She said wheelchair access was already possible.

Purcell’s scheme includes rotating the entrance of the grade I-listed library by 180 degrees to the south side. This, with the addition of a path across the south lawn, would make wheelchair access easier.

The scheme also involves inserting a lift and an acoustically sealed librarian’s office in the upper camera.

The university admitted it had received eight letters of objection, but said this was fewer than the number written in support of the project.

In a letter to the Times, Thomas wrote: “The article fails to reference a single Oxford academic, instead quoting a retired scholar who is not and has never been an Oxford don. Various complaints that are enumerated as though they come from multiple sources have all come from this single source.”

Evans, who spent 14 years fighting Cambridge University over its promotions procedure, once told Varsity magazine she aspired to be one of history’s “odd, spiky characters who stick out from the general flow”.

A spokeswoman for Purcell said the changes would be very unintrusive.

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