VISITORS to the Bodleian Library were offered an early glimpse of the next £78m chapter in its 400-year history.

An exhibition showing how Oxford University hopes to transform the New Bodleian into what will effectively be a major city visitor attraction was held in the library yesterday and Thursday.

Early arrivals at the exhibition welcomed the plans, which would allow the Bodleian to put some of its treasures, such as its Magna Cartas, on display in permanent and temporary exhibitions.

Lord of the Rings author JRR Tolkien’s daughter Priscilla Tolkien, 80, who lives in North Oxford, was among the visitors.

The New Bodleian scheme will create a new glass frontage facing out to Broad Street and modernise book storage facilities, following concerns about fire risk, security and humidity.

Nicholas Perkins, a researcher at Oxford University, said: “I think opening up the library to the general public will make a huge difference. But the scheme will also bring the library’s facilities for researchers into the 21st century.

“They currently lag well behind what is available in the great libraries in London, Cambridge and America. It is an exciting development.”

Pensioner Margaret Minte, from Woodstock, who visited the exhibition with her husband Edward, said: “It looks like being really amazing.

“At present there is no entrance out to Broad Street and the present entrance in Park Road is pretty dingy.”

Patricia Toner, who works as a guide in the Bodleian’s Divinity School, added: “It will provide a great improvement. When you go to places like the British Library Museum, there are tremendous displays. This is going to create much more exhibition space.”

The Bodleian will submit a planning application to the city council later this month.

If approved, the renovation would take five years to complete, with the library renamed the Weston Library, in recognition of a £25m gift from the Garfield Weston Foundation, established by Canadian businessman William Garfield Weston.

City councillor Susanna Pressel said: “It is good that the university is proposing to do something about a building that I have always viewed as foreboding and ugly.

“If it receives planning permission we may be able to look forward to a more attractive and welcoming building.”

Bodley’s Librarian Sarah Thomas said she was hopeful of a positive response from the planning authority despite the fact the Bodleian’s application to build a £29m book depository at Osney Mead was turned down. The depository is now being built on the outskirts of Swindon.

She said the Bodleian exhibitions already attracted about 100,000 visitors a year. The new exhibition rooms would significantly increase that number.

The New Bodleian Library was opened by George VI in 1946.