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

Cross-media Research: Searching for Poets, Painters and Photographers

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Diederik Oostdijk is Professor of English and American Literature at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and was a 2021 Eccles Visiting Fellow at the British Library. The British Library is an excellent place to do cross-media research. During my research stint, I...

The Society of the Double Cross

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

In the archives of the Hakluyt Society at the British Library, I found a letter from 1963 sent by Philip Swann to the Honorary Secretary R A Skelton. Swann had worked as a cartographer in Venezuela in the 1930s and...

Highlights from our Gold exhibition

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Our new exhibition Gold opens this week. It explores the use of gold in books and documents across twenty countries, seventeen languages, and five major world religions. We show how people have used gold to communicate profound value, both worldly...

Collaborative doctoral studentship: The origins and development of the Cotton collection

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

We are pleased to announce the availability of a fully-funded collaborative doctoral studentship from October 2022, in partnership with the University of East Anglia (UEA), under the AHRC’s Collaborative Doctoral Partnership Scheme. The library of Robert Cotton (1571–1631) has been...

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