The Bodleian Library has unveiled plans for a five million pound project, designed to upgrade space within the ancient central Bodleian site.

Plans aim to enable greater direct access to books, improved services and access for library readers and visitors with limited mobility.

Dr Sarah Thomas, Bodley’s Librarian, said that part of the project is to “open up the famous tunnel” which “generations of Oxford students have heard about but to which they have never had access.” The tunnel, called the Gladstone Link, will connect the Radcliffe Camera to the Old Bodleian main building.

A spokesperson from the Bodleian Libraries stated, “the tunnel and conveyor have had an important role in the mythology of Oxford over the last sixty years – many people believe there is a maze of tunnels underneath the libraries.”

The tunnel was previously used for transporting books on a 1940s conveyor from the New Bodleian to the Old Bodleian and for transporting books by trolley to the Radcliffe Camera. However, the tunnel will now be refurbished for reader use.

The Gladstone Link also contains the Underground Bookstore, which will be transformed into two floors of open-stack library space. There will be space for 240,000 books, as well as informal study areas for readers.

A new storage book facility will be located on a 15-acre site in South Marston, and will provide storage for 8 million volumes.

Other plans include adjusting the paving level in the Old Schools Quadrangle. It is assumed that at some time in the past, the Quad was “dropped” to accommodate a new drainage system, so that there are now one or two steps up to each door. The intention is to repave the Quad at the same level as the four lowest doorways. This will enable better disabled access to most of the doors and book delivery.

Dr Thomas commented, “These are exciting initiatives, developed as part of a coordinated estates programme. They will help to equip our most venerable and treasured Grade 1 buildings for the 21st century.”

Platform lifts are to be installed in both the Radcliffe Camera and the Old Bodleian main building. These will enable readers with limited mobility to access the Radcliffe Camera for the first time. A new staircase will wrap around the platform lift providing safe access to the Gladstone Link and replacing a very steep staircase that was put in during the installation of the Underground Bookstore.

The changes aim to improve services, increase direct access to books and facilitate access for library visitors with limited mobility.

OUSU have welcomed the plans to improve disabled access. Danielle Fraser Solomon, Students with Disabilities Officer, praised improvements made by the University so far.

She said, “At the moment, the more recently built libraries (such as the Radcliffe Science Library) have reasonable levels of disabled access, but the older libraries do not, which creates an unreasonable disadvantage for those students with limited mobility whose courses mean that they rely on libraries such as the Bodleian.”

She added, “Hopefully this type of project will soon extend to the many departments and faculties across the university that also lack accessibility for students with physical and sensory disabilities.”

Some are worried that the upgrade could detract from the aesthetics of the buildings. Sarah Reder, a second-year student at St. Hilda’s said, “I think the upgrade sounds great but you need to be careful not to interfere with the character of the buildings, especially as they are Grade 1 listed.”

If Planning Permission approval is received, the work will begin at the end of Trinity Term 2010 and is due to be completed by Spring 2011. The work is scheduled to begin in June to avoid as much disruption to students and readers as possible.

The project is led by Purcell Miller Tritton, which has previously worked on other Grade 1 buildings including St Paul’s Cathedral, Kew Palace and the British Museum. The Radcliffe Camera is Grade 1 listed and was the first rotunda library built in England in the mid-eighteenth century.