IT was built as a vast fortress, capable of storing nearly three million volumes including some of the world’s most valuable books.

Now Oxford’s New Bodleian Library is stripped and deserted.

The Broad Street building will close any day, awaiting a £78m redevelopment.

When it reopens in 2015 it will have been transformed into the Weston Library, with a new glass facade, a large entrance hall, cafe and exhibition rooms allowing the library’s treasures – such as the draft manuscript of Jane Austen’s unfinished novel bought recently for more than £1m – to be displayed to the public.

For now, miles of empty shelving give the building an eerie feel, as sounds echo around the bare corridors that for so long had been a hub of scholarly activity.

John Duffy began work at the Bodleian in the 1970s as “a stacky”, when book requests would reach him on level G down a pneumatic tube. He and Toby Kirtley, estates projects officer for the Bodleian Libraries, have been working towards the closure of a library that they both came to love.

“There is some personal sadness for me to see it like this. But I am excited about what the New Bod is going to become,” said Mr Duffy, now a projects officer. “Offering more access to the public of Oxford has to be a good thing.”

Not everyone in Oxford shares this deep affection.

While the Bodleian buildings on the other side of Broad Street, ranged around the Schools Quadrangle, are counted among England’s architectural glories, the New Bod has been variously described as gloomy and inaccessible, while the great travel writer Jan Morris has compared it to “a well-equipped municipal swimming bath.”

Yet the New Bod was created by the celebrated architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott immediately before the Second World War, giving Oxford an efficient 11-storey bookstore. Now Scott’s book fortress has served its purpose, with the building becoming demonstrably inadequate in terms of space, humidity control, fire safety and flood and security protection.

Mr Kirtley said: “When you are talking about air conditioning and fire protection, you have to remember that it is a 1930s building. Back then concrete and steel materials were viewed as fire proof. “This is really all about giving the books more comfortable and stable conditions to live in.”

The bulk of those books have gone down the road to a business estate on the outskirts of Swindon, where the Bodleian opened a £25m depository. But Mr Kirtley insists that much of the original furniture will be put into the Weston Library.

Dr Sarah Thomas, Bodley’s librarian, said: “The New Bodleian Library has served us well for almost 70 years. I'm looking forward to its renewal, with its classic features refurbished with its facade opened up on Broad Street.

“This major investment will enable the Bodleian both to protect its great collections and to open them up to readers, researchers and the public.”