Get a Reader Pass

Desks in a British Library reading room.

A guide to how to obtain a British Library Reader Pass to use our Reading Rooms

Published date:

Register for a Reader Pass

We issue a free Reader Pass to anyone who has a need to see specific items in our collections. We do not usually issue a pass to anyone under the age of 18 but in some cases exceptions are made.

Before you register with the British Library, you should search our Catalogues to confirm we have the material you require. Please bring these details with you when you register. Our staff will have an introductory discussion with you about your need to use our collections. They may suggest more appropriate libraries or sources for your research.

You can pre-register online or register in person. Pre-registration is only eligible for first time Reader Pass applicants. To register in person, or to complete your online pre-reregistration, visit either: 

  • Reader Registration on the Upper Ground Floor at St Pancras, London (open Monday, Wednesday and Thursday 9.30am - 5.45pm, Tuesday 9.30am - 7.45pm and Friday and Saturday 9.30am - 4.15pm, except for seasonal closures. Please arrive at least 15 minutes before closing); or, 
  • Reception, the Thorp Arch Retail Park, Boston Spa, Yorkshire (open Monday to Friday, except for seasonal closures). We strongly recommend that readers intending to use the Boston Spa Reading Room pre-register online.

We will need to see proof of your identity and address.

Once registered, you will be given a Reader Pass. Passes are valid for a period of between one month and three years and are issued subject to the Library's Conditions of Use.

Once you have pre-registered, or got your Reader Pass, you need to get an account before you can order items to view in our Reading Rooms. If you pre-register and get an account before you get your Reader Pass you can order books before your first visit. You may find it helpful to order in advance as most collection items are held in storage. Delivery times range from 70 minutes to 48 hours, depending on the storage location. We provide delivery times at the point of order.

If you already have a Reader Pass you may need to extend or renew it or obtain a temporary pass.    

Extend a Reader Pass

This allows you to request material before renewing your pass in person. You can extend your expired Reader Pass only if you have upgraded your Reader number to a British Library Online Account before your pass expired.

  • The extension is valid for three weeks and allows you to pre-order items in advance of your next visit. However, you still need to renew your Reader Pass prior to using our Reading Rooms.

To extend your expired Reader Pass:

  • Log in to My Account
  • Click the ‘My Service’ ‘tab
  • In the British Library Reader section, click ‘Extend Reader Pass’
  • Tick the check boxes to signify that you will bring proof of signature and address
  • Click the ‘Extend’ button. 
When you renew your pass you must provide documentation to support your need for ongoing access to British Library collection items and appropriate identification and proof of address.

Renew a Reader Pass

To renew your Reader Pass you should apply in person to Reader Registration at St Pancras, London or at Reception in Boston Spa, Yorkshire. 

Your pass will be valid from the day you renew. If you have lost your expired pass we can still renew it. You can renew your Reader Pass both before and after your current pass expires:
  • If you have a three year Reader Pass you can renew up to six months before the expiry date If you have a one year pass you can renew up to one month before the expiry date
  • If you have a monthly pass you can renew up to one week before the expiry date.

You must provide documentation to support your need for ongoing access and you must provide appropriate identification and proof of address.

Temporary Pass

If you have registered and been issued with a Reader Pass but arrive at the Library without your pass, a temporary pass may be issued at a cost of £5.00. If you have lost your pass the fee will be £10.00. In either case you must provide appropriate identification and proof of address.

Please come to Reader Registration on the Upper Ground Floor at St Pancras, London or Reception at Boston Spa, Yorkshire.

Using the Library 

The British Library is different from public and university libraries:

  • In London, the majority of the collections are held in closed stores, and are ordered to a reading room. At Boston Spa, all items are held in closed stores and are ordered in advance.
  • The Library does not hold multiple copies of standard texts.
  • Items in the Library's main catalogue, Explore the British Library, with a 'Document Supply' prefix (DSC) may be requested as interlibrary loans through public, academic and business libraries, otherwise no items may not be borrowed from any Reading Rooms.
  • Readers using the Boston Spa Reading Room are advised to order items in advance as the minimum delivery time to this Reading Room is 48 hours.
  • Delivery of items from storage areas to reading rooms depends on where the item is stored and to which reading room the item is delivered. There is further information for readers using the London and Boston Spa Reading Rooms.
Readers with disabilities who may need additional support should contact us.  

Reader Registration, The British Library,
96 Euston Road, London, NW1 2DB, United Kingdom
T: +44(0)20 7412 7676; F: +44(0)20 7412 7794

Customer Services, Reader Registration, The British Library,
Boston Spa, Wetherby, West Yorkshire, LS23 7BQ, United Kingdom
T: +44(0)1937 546060; F: +44(0)1937 546333

Collection guides

King George III Topographical and Maritime collections

30–40,000 maps, plans and views, both printed and hand-drawn, of all parts of the world

Cartographical collections

Travel collections and an extensive series of views by Wilhelm Berger.

India Office Company paintings

Collections of drawings made for East India Company officials, chiefly by Indian artists.

India Office popular paintings

A collection of 19th and 20th century Indian paintings from the India Office

Paintings, sculpture and furniture

We hold a rich collection of oil paintings, sculpture and historical furniture from the India Office collections

Archaeological Survey of India collections

A major resource both for the study of Indian architecture and archaeology

India Office photograph collections

Our India Office photograph collections contain some 250,000 images from c 1850 onwards.

World and traditional music collection

We hold one of the world's largest collections of recordings variously described as traditional, folk or world music

Classical music recordings

Recordings in the western concert tradition, opera, liturgical music, and the pre-Baroque repertories of Western Europe

Music recordings

Our vast collection includes commercial discs, tapes of radio broadcasts, and rare or unpublished recordings

Canadian colonial copyright photographs

Canadian photographs that were received between the years 1895 and 1923

Wildlife and environmental sounds

The largest collection of its kind in Europe and the most comprehensive in the world

India Office Indian miniature paintings

More than 3000 Indian miniatures dating from the 16th to the mid-19th century

India Office prints, drawings and paintings

We have one of the world’s richest archives of prints and drawings from South Asia

Pop music recordings

We hold one of the most wide-ranging collections of popular music in the world