Religious and cultural guidelines for Readers and Visitors to the British Library
It is also important to understand that the British Library is unique and different in comparison to museums and galleries where collections are secured, since we directly entrust our Readers with our collections into their care, for their use, study and research.
Our established Conditions of Use of the London Reading Rooms outlines the conditions under which access to the collections are made available; these have been developed to ensure preservation of the collection, to maintain a safe environment for Readers and staff and to facilitate a constructive environment for study. We do however recognise that some Readers or Visitors may have religious or cultural beliefs for which some of these conditions may present the need to consider some flexibility without compromising the Library's fundamental responsibilities. We will endeavour to consider such sensibilities and to look at flexibility in accommodating needs, whilst balancing this with being mindful of our obligation to safeguard the collection.
We therefore request from our Readers and Visitors, consideration of our responsibilities, and seek their understanding that at times they will be asked to make concessions or compromise. Readers of a religious faith are also asked to consider our duty to safeguard some of the only surviving key sacred manuscripts and documents which are of great importance to faith groups and are irreplaceable. If they are lost or damaged, the implications would be far-reaching.
From all Readers and Visitors we request and appreciate their patience, co-operation and assistance in the measures that we need to take to keep the Library's treasures safe for future generations.
We are committed to treating all Readers and Visitors with respect and dignity and we endeavour to apply principles of consistency and fairness to all. However, this needs to be balanced to avoid any possible potential risk to the collections.
Many people will choose to wear modes of dress which reflects their culture, religion or belief such as robes, kimonos, habits and headgear which may be of a concealing or bulky nature that can make it difficult to safeguard our collections.
Where possible, accommodations will be made and flexibility extended. It is not feasible to apply rigid guidelines and practice to accommodate all religious and cultural requirements and possible scenarios; in these instances decisions pertaining to access may need to be taken on a case by case basis within a framework of respect for diversity, common sense, dialogue and the balancing of our responsibilities towards the collections.
As examples of the situations that may arise and to provide some reference, we have provided guidelines for the following:
The Library's current long term policy is that outdoor coats and outerwear of various descriptions are not allowed into the Reading Rooms. This is to limit the possible ease of theft of the collections; preserve our collections against possible damage such as wet coats; to ensure the safety of our staff and Readers; and to protect our facilities. Readers accept the Conditions of Use as part of the Reader registration process.
The Rabbinic long jacket is regarded as part of a suit and is not considered an outdoor coat, (in the same way that a Morning Suit jacket with long coattails is considered a jacket and not a coat, the Rabbinic long jacket matches trousers in terms of fabric and colour, and usually has only two breast pockets, in adverse weather an outdoor coat is normally worn over the Rabbinic jacket) therefore Rabbis or Orthodox Jewish men should be able to wear their Rabbinic long jacket in the Reading Room as this garment is a respectful convention of their faith.
If an Orthodox Jewish man or Rabbi is wearing what would be considered to be an outdoor coat, then the same Conditions of Use as applied to others needs to be adhered to, and the coat should be checked into the cloakroom.
Many Muslim women will choose to dress modestly or wear different types of clothing, such as the chador, niqab, or jilbab to reflect their religious values which are based on principles of modesty.
At times, Muslim women wear an outdoor coat but are not dressed modestly under their coats. We understand the need to protect dignity and modesty, but as Readers who are obliged to adhere to the Library's Conditions of Use as mentioned previously, the Library is unable to allow the wearing of outdoor coats in this instance (The wearing of the jilbab, which is an overgarment and not an outdoor coat is welcomed).
Some Muslim women may choose to wear a full head to foot covering which could also include concealing their face (niqab). To protect our collections as well as our staff, other visitors and premises, it is a reasonable requirement that we carry out photographic identity checks. This entails Readers registering for a Reader Pass for which a photograph is taken, as well as checking identity against the Reader Pass when entering the Reading Room and collecting items and material.
We are extremely aware of the need to protect dignity and modesty and will therefore make special arrangements, when required. For the registration process:
- We will request the Reader to remove her veil and a photograph will be taken by a female member of staff in a screened off area.
- Identity needs to be checked against the Reader Pass every time the Reader uses the Library Reading Rooms, as well as when collecting material.
- Arrangements have been made to minimise inconvenience to the Reader, her identity will be checked by a female member of security in privacy at a designated office.
For gender sensitive and potentially religious reasons, many women could take offence to their bags and possessions being searched by a man, therefore bag or possession searching of women's bags will be carried out by female security officers. A female security officer should always be on bag searching duty, but there may be occasions where this is always not possible, in these instances if a female Visitor or Reader requests a female to search her bag, then every effort will be made to call a female security officer to carry out the search
The Library currently does not provide quiet or prayer room facilities for meditation, prayer or worship. The Library's prime services are continually expanding to meet the needs of the reader and service, and the facilities and resources are at a premium. The Library is thus regrettably unable to accommodate the very diverse religious, cultural or belief needs without compromising the facilitation of its main purpose and function - provision of knowledge.
There are however dedicated local facilities for different religions and belief groups that can provide/ assist with quiet meditation and prayer. Visitors and Readers requesting prayer or quiet room facilities are referred to the Information Desk for the listing of places in the area.
The catering facilities at the Library make every effort to accommodate all dietary requirements of which there is considerable variance (religious, health, ethical, personal choice and cultural), and does offer options which may be suitable. If catering facilities are unable to cater for specific dietary requirements, visitors and readers are referred to the Information Desk where details of potentially suitable places to eat in the area may be available, however we cannot take responsibility for the authenticity of establishments nor the accuracy of the information we distribute.
Employees, Readers and Visitors are asked to consider others and avoid wearing inappropriate clothing which may be considered insensitive or offensive.