British Library to reopen its Reading Rooms

Following the Government’s announcement last week that museums and libraries can reopen to the public, the British Library plans to welcome researchers back to its physical sites from 22 July 2020.

We are committed to enabling researchers to return to the Library to consult collections that are not available online, and have therefore prioritised the reopening of a limited number of our Reading Rooms, initially for limited hours and with reduced capacity. Humanities One, Rare Books and Music and the Business & IP Centre (BIPC) will be the first to reopen at our St Pancras site, along with the Reading Room at our site at Boston Spa, West Yorkshire. A range of the Library’s special collections will be available in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room, while the BIPC will offer support to small and medium size businesses which have been greatly impacted by the pandemic.

The safety of our staff and users is of paramount importance and in order to maintain social distancing, the Library will be introducing a range of new measures including ticketed pre-booking for seats in the Reading Rooms and a one-way system around the Library. Perspex screens will be in place at points where staff interact with Readers, hand sanitiser will be available for both staff and the public and, as a precautionary measure, 2 metre social distancing will apply throughout the Reading Rooms and other areas.

The limited reopening of our Reading Rooms marks the first stage of a phased reoccupation of the Library’s physical sites and we will be contacting Readers with further details of services available. We will continue to review provision at both of our sites in line with Government guidance, with a view to making additional facilities and services available in the coming months, including our free permanent gallery, the Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library.

Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, said:

“It was with great sadness that we closed our doors to the public in March. We know what a valuable resource our physical spaces are, particularly in providing the very special experience of working directly with our collections. We are therefore delighted to be able to welcome researchers back to the Library as we gradually reopen our public spaces, beginning with the Reading Rooms. Our period of closure has brought opportunities to learn and adapt, transforming our digital services and teaching us to work in new ways. With the health and safety of our staff and visitors at the heart of our plans, we look forward to bringing our buildings back to life in the coming months, including our programme of exhibitions, events and learning activities.”

While our physical sites have been closed, the Library has refocused on digital engagement, making our digitised collections, learning resources, and remote access research services available to all. Users can continue to explore the themes of our public programme through podcasts and online events, including celebrations of Florence Nightingale at 200, Mary Wollstonecraft and Suffragette Sophia Duleep Singh. The BIPC has transformed its in-person services to offer over 100 free webinars and workshops to support small business owners and entrepreneurs, while the Library’s Learning team have run a digital campaign to inspire children to create their own miniature books in lock-down.

The Library is also providing specific services to support the effort against Covid-19. Our British Library On Demand (BLoD) team are supplying vital research to the NHS, Public Health England, NICE and other health organisations, and we have created a new Covid-19 online collection guide, bringing together freely available public health information and research to support the public, researchers and policymakers.

At our St Pancras site, we have collaborated with our neighbours University College London Hospitals (UCLH) and the Francis Crick Institute to develop a drive-through Covid-19 testing facility for NHS and social care staff in our car park. Meanwhile, the Library continues to collect and preserve the record of these extraordinary times as they unfold, providing a critical resource in understanding Covid-19 and its socio-economic impact.

Notes to Editors

For Reader enquiries please contact our Customer Services team on or 01937 546546

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website - - every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages.

For more information:

Eleanor Nimmo
The British Library
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