How to request Archives and Manuscripts

The Garden of Pleasure, in Roman de la Rose
Detail of a miniature of the 'Garden of Pleasure', from the Roman de la Rose, S. Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1490-c. 1500, Harley MS 4425, f. 12v.

You can view items in the Archive and Manuscript collections in the Library’s Reading Rooms. You may also be able to order copies of prints or digital images.

The catalogue contains records for manuscript and archives from many different collections.

Some, but not all, of the manuscript and archives found in the catalogue can be requested to a Reading Room. Some items may require an appointment.

Some of the manuscript and archive we hold are only listed in card catalogues. Although there are no records for these items in 'Explore Archives and Manuscripts' you can request these items using the 'Request Items' link on the catalogue.

To order paper copies, prints or digital images of manuscripts, India Office Records and other unique items, contact Imaging Services (terms and conditions apply).

Can I order the item to a reading room?

Click on the record’s ‘I want this’ tab to see whether the item can be requested. The access options available depend on the item's Collection Area and the type of item that the record describes. More than one option may be available:

  • View online: digital item(s) – most EAP items are available to view online immediately, as are some Maps.

  • Deliver item to: The British Library’s Reading Rooms
    • Those Items that can be requested will display the shelfmark.
    • Some Items that can be requested will also ask you to book an appointment to view the item in a particular room.
  • How to: Access this item
    • Items in some collections can only be seen by appointment. A contact email is supplied.
    • An item may be restricted for a number of reasons. For more information we advise you to contact
  • Find related records
    • Some items cannot be requested as they are not at an orderable level, e.g. a map within an archive. You need to browse the collection hierarchy to see how this item forms part of the collection and to find the orderable item.
    • Records for Person biographies, Family histories, Institution histories and Place Names do not represent collection items and cannot be requested. You should view the links in the Details tab to find related records.

How do I order items that can be delivered to a reading room

If you haven’t already done so, log in with your British Library Username and Password. The log-in link can be found at the top right hand corner of the screen.

  • For items found as a result of a search of Explore Archives and Manuscripts:
    • make a note of the alpha-numeric reference/shelfmark; you will need to enter this in the requesting form
    • click Go and a new window opens displaying the requesting form for your item
    • enter the alpha-numeric Reference/Shelfmark into the form
      NB: If the item is in the Maps Collection you can also add Title details and/or more information. If the item is in the Music Collection, you can also add a Name and or Title and/or Year. None of these fields are mandatory.
    • click to ‘Add to basket’.
  • For items listed in card catalogues:
    • click ‘Request Items’ in the navigation bar
    • choose the appropriate collection from the nine presented
    • input details of the item you want on the resulting form
    • click to ‘Add to basket’.

Add to basket

Once you click 'Add to basket' a system message confirms that the item has been added to your basket. You can continue to add more items to your basket. Or you can go to your Basket to request the item by clicking the link in the top right of the screen (next to the Logout button).

To request item(s) from your basket

If you wish to request all items in your Basket for the same date, you can select all items and change the date once.

If you wish to order more than one item in your basket, but want items delivered on different days, you should specify the date required for each item before you select any of the items.

  • click in the check box to select the item(s)
  • check the Date required; the initial date displayed will be for the earliest delivery date possible. If you wish to change the date :
    • click the date displayed
    • use the pop-up calendar, to select the date you require. 
      NB: The date required for items that have a delivery time of 48 or 48+ hours is pre-set for two days from today's date. You can change the date to a later one.
  • select the reading location
  • click Request; a pop-up window confirms whether the request was successful
  • close this pop-up
  • if you don't want to order any more items, please Log out and close all windows.

Please check My Reading Room Requests before you set off to the Library to make sure your items have arrived.

Managing your Basket

You can have up to 30 items in your Basket at any one time. Items remain in your Basket:

  • until they are requested
  • until you remove them
  • for 90 days, after which they are removed automatically.

NB: Whilst items remain in your basket for up to 90 days they are still available for other people to request.

If you wish to delete items from your Basket, select them using the check box, then click Delete. You will then be asked to confirm your deletions.