You can access ancient, medieval, modern, and contemporary manuscript and archive material from around the world. Our collections include historical, literary, political, scientific, and religious papers as well as maps, charters, seals, rolls, and papyri.

Collection guides

Readers at desks in the Manuscript Reading Room

Manuscripts Reading Room

The Manuscripts Reading Room is the enquiry point for the Library's western language manuscript collections (i.e. written by hand, not printed). The collection includes literary, historical manuscripts and private papers.

  • Find information on the shelves about the British Library’s collection of western manuscripts and those held elsewhere
  • Access online databases and electronic journals and books relating to archives and manuscripts
  • Order collection items to the Reading Room via our Explore Archives & Manuscripts Catalogue

Some of our manuscripts may require a Letter of Introduction, or may have other Access Conditions.

We offer a range of free Reader sessions and 1-2-1 consultations to help you make the best use of the Library's collections.

You’ll need a Reader Pass

Mon: 10.00 – 17.00
Tue – Sat: 09.30 – 17.00
Sun & English Public Holidays: closed

Opening hours for all Reading Rooms

For enquiries, please contact the Manuscripts Reference Team.

Blog posts

A 'pest of skolds' and other 'unruly women': caring for sick and wounded sailors in the Anglo-Dutch wars (part I)

Monday, October 3, 2022

The Anglo-Dutch wars were a series of conflicts fought between England and the Dutch Republic beginning in the mid-seventeenth century and lasting until the late eighteenth century. Contemporary writer and diarist John Evelyn was appointed Commissioner for Sick and Wounded...

Lindisfarne Gospels exhibition opens in Newcastle

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The British Library has loaned the Lindisfarne Gospels to the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne, for an exhibition that runs until 3 December 2022. The Lindisfarne Gospels on display in the Laing Art Gallery The manuscript is displayed...

The Haldimand Papers: The British Empire in North America

Monday, September 26, 2022

Patrick J. Jung is a professor in the Department of Humanities, Social Science and Communication at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and was a 2021 Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow at the British Library. As an Eccles Centre Visiting...

Alexander the Great exhibition at the British Library

Friday, September 23, 2022

On 21 October 2022 the British Library opens a new exhibition, Alexander the Great: The Making of a Myth. Bringing together a spectacular selection of treasures from across more than 2000 years, 25 countries and 22 languages, the show presents...

More blog posts

Case studies

More Case studies
…You get to know how people work in an institution like this... it's something I would like to do as well.…

Exploring the working life of a twentieth-century scientist through the archive of John Maynard Smith.

…A PhD can be a lonely journey, but collaborative PhDs are certainly not that.…

Investigating constructions of identity in the works and archive of the writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.

Shop

The British Library houses one of the world's greatest collections of illuminated manuscripts, and Janet Backhouse has drawn on this rich resource to make a selection of outstanding examples that span over 800 years of medieval book production.

£8.95

A History of the Book in 100 Books (hardback)

From inscriptions on tombs to the first writings on papyrus; from scrolls to the first bound codex books in Roman times.

£20

Codex Sinaiticus: New Perspectives on the Ancient Biblical Manuscript

Codex Sinaiticus is one of the most important books in the world.

£50