These frequently asked questions are to help readers new to the Library. They cover:
- General information
- Library Services
- Reading Room information
What do I need to know before my first visit to the British Library?
- We are a reference library and do not hold multiple copies of standard texts. Consider if you need a quiet study space rather than access to our collection. More information is available on our website.
- Make sure that you have all the necessary registration documents – personal identification & proof of address (which should be not older than three months). We only accept original documents listed on our website.
- Consider pre-registration for a Reader Pass. The benefits to pre-registration are that you can reserve items in the Reading Rooms for your first visit and it saves you time when you arrive.
- We do not normally give access to people under the age of 18.
- Search the Library’s catalogues to confirm that we have the material you require.
- Bring with you the details of the items you wish to see.
- Plan your visit, as our Reading Rooms are often very busy. However, more desks are available in the early morning and evening.
- Items stored onsite must be requested before 16.00 for delivery the same day. Most items in the Library’s collection are kept in storage. Delivery time to our Reading Rooms is between 70 minutes (for items stored onsite) and 48+ hours (for items stored offsite).
Consider ordering items in advance, either using our online catalogues or by contacting us.
Where is the British Library?
- The St. Pancras main site is located at 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB, along from King's Cross and adjacent to St Pancras International stations. We are placed near main line national services, international rail services and bus services. Please check Transport for London www.tfl.gov.uk for details.
- The Boston Spa site is located in Wetherby, West Yorkshire, LS23 7BQ. The Reading Room is only for limited reference use. You do not need to register for a Reader Pass to use the Boston Spa Reading Room.
Is the St Pancras site open on Sundays or English Bank Holidays?
- The public areas (the exhibition galleries, Shop, catering facilities) at St Pancras are open seven days a week.
- The Reading Rooms at St Pancras are open six days a week.
- Please note that all Reading Rooms are closed on Sundays and English Public Holidays.
- The Reader Registration Office, at St Pancras, is open six days a week.
What are the contact details for the British Library?
Switchboard: +44 (0)843 2081144
Customer Services: +44 (0)1937 546060
Minicom (for the use of the hearing impaired): +44 (0)1937 546434
You can also contact specific departments on the phone numbers listed on our website.
Does the St Pancras site have a café or restaurant?
Yes. Several catering facilities are available:
- King’s Library restaurant on the first floor at the rear of the Entrance Hall.
- The Café on the upper ground floor.
- Espresso bar outside the building on the St Pancras Piazza.
For more details of opening times, please visit our website.
Does the Library have a prayer room?
Unfortunately, a prayer room is not available at any Library site.
Where can I park my car?
There is no onsite parking for the public. (A limited number of metered spaces are available on Ossulston Street.)
Where can I leave my bicycle?
There is an extensive covered and uncovered cycle parking area in the Piazza.
How do I join the Library?
To use the British Library you need to be registered as a Reader. A valid photographic Reader Pass is required to enter the Reading Rooms at St. Pancras. More information on how to register for a Reader Pass is available.
To obtain your Reader Pass, please pre-register online or register in person.
To pre-register online:
- Visit our webpage How to register for a Reader Pass and click the ‘Pre-Register for a Reader Pass’ button at the bottom of the page.
- Come to the Reader Registration Office, with the documentation required, to complete your registration.
The benefits to pre-registration are that you can reserve items in the Reading Rooms for your first visit and it saves you time when you arrive.
To register in person:
- Come to the Reader Registration Office on the Upper Ground Floor, with the documentation required, to complete a PC-based application form.
Please note that you will not be able to reserve books prior to your first visit and the registration process will take longer when you arrive.
Important: Please remember to bring with you two original forms of identification (even if you have already pre-registered):
- One showing your signature (e.g. bank or credit card, driving licence or passport)
- Another one showing your home address. This should not be older than three months (e.g. utility bill, bank statement or driving licence).
Please check our full list of accepted documents before visiting the Library as we will be unable to register you if you do not have the correct documents. We cannot issue a Reader Pass without both forms of identification - no exceptions can be made.
It is your responsibility to provide official translations for foreign documents, where necessary.
Full information on opening times for Reader Registration office is available on our website.
Why do I need to provide a purpose for using the Library?
The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the great libraries of the world. Due to increased pressure on our service we cannot guarantee admission for all readers. A Reader Registration staff member will therefore have an initial discussion with you about your need to use our collections. They may suggest more appropriate libraries or sources for your research.
To support your application, please provide specific references, shelfmarks from our catalogues, business card, student card, professional membership card, etc.
For how long is my Reader Pass valid?
Passes are valid for a variety of periods depending on your needs and are issued subject to the Library's Conditions of Use
- 1 day, 7 days,
- 1 month , 3 months,
- 1 year, 2 years, 3 years.
What should I do if I have lost my Reader Pass?
If you have lost your Reader Pass you should go to Reader Registration on the Upper Ground Floor at St Pancras. If your Reader Pass has been stolen we will replace it free of charge (you must provide evidence that it has been stolen, e.g. a police crime reference number). If your Reader Pass has been lost or damaged there is a £10 charge to replace it. You cannot replace a lost or stolen pass, online.
More information on how to replace a lost, stolen or damaged Reader Pass is available.
My Reader Pass has expired. How can I renew it?
You can renew your Reader Pass before your current Pass expires. Your new Pass will be valid from the day you renew. To renew your Reader Pass, you need to come to Reader Registration on the Upper Ground Floor at St Pancras and show two forms of identification: a valid proof of your home address and proof of your identity. You cannot renew an expired pass online.
More information on how to renew a Reader Pass is available.
Is a Reader Pass transferable?
No. You cannot lend your Reader Pass to another person. The Reader Pass is for the exclusive use of the person to whom it was issued. Please note that your Reader Pass must be shown to any member of staff who requests to see it.
I am under the age of 18. Can I be registered as a Reader?
We do not normally issue a Reader Pass to anyone under the age of 18, although we occasionally make an exception to see specific items which are unavailable elsewhere. There are special arrangements and you must apply at least 10 days in advance of your first visit. More information is available on our website.
Can I borrow books from the Library?
The British Library is very different from public and university libraries. All our Reading Rooms are reference only. This means that you cannot borrow items from any of our Reading Rooms, even if you only want to borrow them over a short period of time. The British Library does not hold multiple copies of standard texts and is not generally suitable for university course work.
However, items marked DSC or Lending collections in the catalogue may be requested as interlibrary loans through public, academic and business libraries. The interlibrary loan service is offered solely to organisations and not individuals. More information is available on our website.
How can I see collection items?
Most collection items are held in storage and have to be ordered to a Reading Room, although each room has some stock on the ‘open access' shelves. To order collection items held in storage, log in to the Library's main catalogue, Explore the British Library.
Should there be any items you wish to see that are designated as restricted access (indicated with the notice, 'Permission Required'), then you will need to make an application to the curator in charge, explaining your need to see the item. Applications for Restricted Items can be picked up from the Reference Desk in the Rare Books & Music Reading Room. Please note, it is not always possible to gain access to restricted items on the same day of application.
How can I find out which items are held in the British Library’s collection?
To find details of collection items we hold, use the Library's main catalogue, Explore the British Library. If you are having any difficulty using the main catalogue please view the Explore the British Library training videos and help.
Please note that some collections cannot be ordered using Explore the British Library; these include:
- Archives and Manuscripts
- Oriental Manuscripts
- India Office Records
- Some Maps
- Official Publications
- Material restricted on preservation grounds.
You can therefore use card catalogues or other online British Library catalogues.
How many items can I order?
Currently you may order 10 items per day (except Manuscripts where you are only allowed four active requests at any one time).
How long will I have to wait for ordered materials?
Delivery times may vary. The ordering process provides information on normal delivery times during the ordering process, which are as follows:
Items stored onsite (St. Pancras, London)
Normal delivery time: 70 minutes
- Items stored onsite must be requested before 16.00 for delivery the same day.
- Items ordered after 16.00 should be delivered by 09.30 the next day.
Items stored offsite (Boston Spa, Yorkshire)
Normal delivery time: 48 or 48+ hours
- Offsite material is not delivered at weekends.
Can I track my orders?
Yes. As a St Pancras registered Reader, with a valid pass, you can:
- Check the current status of requests in real time
- Cancel requests that you no longer want to see (only available if we have not yet started to process the request)
- View archive of requests submitted since 24 November 1997
- Export the archive of requests to other formats e.g. Microsoft Office, PDF
You can access the My Reading Room Requests service online in the Reading Rooms and remotely. The service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week except when technical upgrades are in progress.
Can I reserve items I have ordered to view on the following day?
Space permitting, six items will be kept overnight in most Reading Rooms with the exception of Manuscripts where only four items may be reserved. These items will be kept for three working days.
Can I bring my laptop into the Library and get access to the internet?
Yes. You can bring your laptop into the British Library and get access to the Internet via Library’s free, public WiFi service. Also, Internet access is also available on most of the Reading Room computer terminals.
However, you cannot access your Email account using Library computer terminals. When using your laptop in the Reading Rooms, please remember to put it into silent mode and use headphones inaudible to other readers.
More information is available on our website.
Are there any electronic resources available in the Reading Rooms?
Yes. We have over 800 electronic databases, which are available only on computer terminals. Our database lists include useful websites and journal collection search interfaces, where you can search for articles across a range of journal titles.
Whilst the majority of the journals and newspapers are subscribed and only available in our Reading Rooms, the list does include some freely available titles, e.g. Asian Culture and History, Armenian Journal of Physics, Biology Direct, Humanities, the People's Daily and databases, e.g. AGRICOLA, Care and Health Law, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Fedstats.
Can I access electronic resources from home?
Yes. You can access some of our electronic resources from home. Our Remote Eresources pilot service provides registered St Pancras Reader Pass holders with remote access to:
- Early American Newspapers, Series 1
- Foreign Broadcast Information Service 1974-1996
- US Congressional Serial Set
- World newspaper Archive: African Newspapers, 1800-1922
- Credo Reference
Log in on our Remote Eresources website.
Why are only a limited number of Library’s electronic resources accessible from home?
The Library has licence agreements with publishers governing access to all its electronic resources. In the majority of cases these licences only permit access on Library premises.
More information is available on our website.
Can I order a manuscript item from the manuscript collections?
Yes. You can order manuscripts held by the British Library, log in to either Search our Catalogue: Archives and Manuscripts, or Explore the British Library. Once you have logged in, choose the option “Request other items” from the navigation bar, and then select “Manuscripts Collection” from the list of options. Follow the onscreen instructions to place your request.
You can only order four manuscript items at any one time. Please note that special permission (e.g. letter, recommendation) is required to consult certain manuscripts.
More information is available on our website.
Can I listen to the Library’s Sounds Archive from home?
The Sound Archive's Listening and Viewing Service provides free public access to our collection of recorded sound and video. However, the recordings on this website are in copyright. Wherever possible, the British Library has cleared rights for full public access, but some of the material is only available to licensed UK higher and further education institutions and is protected behind a password.
You can listen to all the recordings added to SoundServer from selected computers in the Reading Rooms if you have a Readers Pass.
Many of the Sound Archive's recordings are held on unique or fragile formats and cannot be delivered via SoundServer. Therefore, you may be asked to make an appointment to be able to listening or viewing requested items.
More information is available on our website.
Reading Room Information
Which Reading Room should I use for my research?
Please note that:
- All St Pancras Reading Rooms provide access to our electronic resources and the Internet.
- Many items in our collections are held in store and have to be ordered.
- While most of our Reading Rooms have general reference material available on the open-access shelves, some have the most recent collections available on open access.
Can I take a jacket or a bag into the Reading Rooms?
No. Jackets, bags and umbrellas should not be brought into collection areas. However, you can leave all your belongings in a free cloakroom or locker room. The lockers take a £1 coin, which is returnable. Our policy allows you to bring one bag no larger than 29x21x10cm into the Reading Rooms. In addition, one clear plastic bag may be taken into the Reading Rooms and, if required, a clear bag for a laptop or notebook.
Please note that all personal possessions taken into a Reading Room may be subject to opening and inspection by Library staff.
Can I use a pen in the Reading Rooms?
No. Pens can cause permanent damage to Library items. The use of pens or highlighters in collection areas is prohibited. You can only use standard writing pencils (not coloured) in the Reading Rooms.
Please note that writing in or marking collection material will result in a suspension.
Can I take food and drink into the Reading Rooms?
No. You are required to take care of all material in the Library's collection. There is no eating or drinking allowed in the Reading Rooms. This includes sweets, chewing gum, and cough sweets. Other prohibited items include scissors, knives, razor blades, and highlighter pens. More information is available on our website.
How to handle collection items?
It is the duty of the Library to ensure that collections are preserved for future generations of users. Much of the damage that collection items sustain is caused by poor handling. Our aim is to encourage responsible use of our collection and reduce the need for costly conservation work.
General handling advice:
- Wash your hands and dry thoroughly before going into collection areas.
- Avoid touching text or images and do not attach notes.
- Use pencils for taking notes (pens are not allowed).
- Do not fold over the corners of pages or not insert bookmarks.
- Open books on book supports and use special weights to hold pages.
Equipment designed to help you care for the collection items e.g. book rests, weights, trolleys is available in the Reading Rooms. Staff can advise you how to use this equipment.
Should I use white cotton gloves for handling collection items?
In general we do not use or provide white gloves for use with collection items. Clean dry hands, free from creams and lotions, are preferable in the majority of circumstances. Wearing cotton gloves when handling books, manuscripts or fragile paper items reduces manual dexterity and the sense of touch, increasing the tendency to 'grab' at items. The cotton fibres may lift or dislodge pigments and inks from the surface of pages and the textile can snag on page edges making them difficult to turn. All these factors increase the risk of damage to collection items.
For more information on how to handle collection items, please see our Using the Collection videos.
Can I download items onto a memory stick in the Reading Rooms?
Most of our online resources are subscribed. Although the British Library has to pay an access fee, we do not pass this cost onto our readers. The licences for eresources are very restrictive. This means that in most cases downloading is not available (downloading information to memory stick is only available from some of the databases in the Business & IP Centre).
All our computer terminals are also configured to prevent general downloading.
Please note that you can scan a text document and save it to memory stick, using one of our three digital self-service overhead scanners. These produce double page scans in JPEG format. The scanners can be found in:
- Humanities - floor 1
- Rare Books & Music
- Science - floor 2
Memory stick can be purchased at adjacent Copy Counters. Further instructions are available at the reference desks.
Can I have help to research a topic?
Yes. If you are researching a topic and need assistance you can contact the Reference Services desk. They can help you use the catalogues and indexes, answer your bibliographic enquiries and assist you with tracing material relevant to your research. You can get more information about materials that are not in our catalogues or may be hard to find, using our online service Help for researchers. Also, you can ask question of the Reference Services Team remotely.
If your enquiry requires in-depth research or more specialist help than we can provide we will forward your enquiry to the appropriate person, refer you to our Research Service or suggest alternative sources of assistance.
More information is available on our website.
Are there special facilities or assistance for disabled readers?
The Reading Room Reference Enquiries (for subject enquiries) and the Delivery Enquiries Desks have custom-made lowered sections to enable wheelchair users to access the various services offered. The Reading Rooms contain special equipment facilitating disabled Readers' access to collection materials.
The Disability Support Officer will provide advice and guidance to readers who may find it difficult to use the services and facilities at St Pancras. If you would like to know more, or if you need assistance in any way, please contact the Disability Support Officer in advance of your visit.
tel: +44 (0)1937 546060
Please note that Reader Passes are issued to a helper or friend assisting a Reader with disabilities to carry out their research. Helpers or friends should come to Reader Registration on the Upper Ground Floor at St Pancras, to complete a PC-based application form. They will need to bring identification and proof of address.
More information is available on our website.
Do you hold any training workshops?
Yes. We offer a range of free workshops and training events to enable you to carry out effective research and to make best use of the British Library collections. The sessions cover the basic skills needed for someone starting a research project e.g. searching and browsing, using printed and digital sources, ordering materials, using keywords, using databases, locating material relevant to a subject, etc.
For more information about workshops or to book a place, please visit our free workshops webpage.
If you want to find out more about the British Library we offer a range of tours for groups and individuals. More information is available on our website.
Can I make copies of items I am looking at?
Yes. There are photocopiers available in most Reading Rooms which you can use, but there is a charge for doing this. There are also a couple of overhead scanners, which allow you to copy large, heavy items. Some items, however, are too fragile for self-service copying and copies need to be made by members of staff.
The system enables readers to print in any Reading Room regardless of where the job has been created. Copy services are operated using a reader account. You will be able to top up your account in three ways:
- Using the online My Reading Room Self-Services Copy and Print Account top up service.
- From a kiosk in the Humanities 1 copy area, in Science 2 and in Colindale.
- By using cash, cards or cheque through the cashier facilities in the following Reading Rooms: Humanities 1, Rare Books, Asian & African Studies, Science 2, Colindale, Boston Spa.
Are there any materials not suitable for copying?
For preservation reasons, some materials are not suitable for self-service copying:
- Items published before 1851; some other rare material; printed and manuscript music; oriental manuscripts; illuminated manuscripts; public records
- Items larger than A3
- Any material that weighs 9lbs (4kg) or more
- Items too tightly bound, in vellum or fine bindings
- Items in a damaged condition - brittle paper, cracked spine, loose pages and covers
- All foldouts
- Pre-1900 patents
Please note that no Maps or Western Manuscripts, regardless of date or condition are available for self service copying.
For help, please refer to staff at the copy desks or visit our website.
Can I copy all of a book?
This will depend on what you are looking at. If an item you are copying is still in copyright, you will not be able to copy the whole item (unless you have the written permission of the copyright holder). Staff at the copy desks will be able to advise you further on copyright legislation.
More information about the self-service copyright regulations is available.
Can I make copies of a newspaper article?
Can I order images from the Library’s collections?
Can I copy a book for a commercial purpose?
No. You can only make a single copy of the page for: private study, research, criticism, review or news reporting.
If the copy is needed for a commercial purpose, or if you cannot comply with either of the above, you must have the prior permission of the copyright owner or pay a copyright fee.
For further information, please visit our self-service copyright regulations webpage.
Can I copy two pages at a time?
No. Double page copying is prohibited as it can cause damage to the spine of books. Most books are not designed to open flat and many will not easily open more than 120 degrees. Tightly bound books should not be forced to open more than they can open comfortably. Forcing a book will damage it, straining the spine and weakening the binding structure leading to it splitting into sections.
As the items form the national collection, the Library is obliged to safeguard its collections.
Can I use my own camera, smartphone, tablet, laptop, etc., to take a digital picture?
No. Cameras and scanners must not be brought into the Reading Rooms. Our copyright policy does not allow readers to take their own copies of Library items. Copies of Library collections must only be made using Library copying facilities. Mobile device cameras must not be used within the Reading Rooms. Please note that the Library may undertake safety checks of your technical equipment at any time.
If you breach our terms and conditions, you risk a suspension from the Library.
Can I print from my memory stick in the Reading Rooms?
No. We do not offer this kind of service to our readers. This does not comply with the security of the Library’s network.