Using our Reading Rooms

Humanities 1

The British Library’s Reading Rooms are calm, inspiring places to work and access the Library’s collections.

Some collections are freely available online but the majority will require a visit to the Library's Reading Rooms. Our Reading Rooms are for those who need to access items from our collection, such as, books, maps, manuscripts, journals and sound recordings.

Access is free, but you must first get a Reader Pass and accept our Conditions of Use.

There are 11 Reading Rooms at our London site specialising in different subject areas, and one Reading Room at our Boston Spa site in Yorkshire. You can consult items from our collections, access a wide range of online resources and get help from reference specialists at the Enquiry Desk.

The Reading Rooms are open Monday to Saturday, except for our Boston Spa Reading Room which is closed on Saturdays and Sundays. 

If you do not need to access to the collections you can use our public areas to study without having to get a Reader PassWiFi is provided in all our public spaces, as well as inside our Reading Rooms. For more information see our facilities and accessibility pages.

Visitors to our Reading Rooms are required to leave coats, bags and laptop cases in the cloakroom or in a locker. The temperatures inside the Reading Rooms are set to protect our collection and may feel cool, so please bring an extra layer for your comfort.

If you have a disability and require assistance accessing our collections please refer to our Accessibility page

Using the collection

The British Library is different from public and university libraries as we are a reference-only library and not a lending library. This means you cannot borrow items from our collection as all materials are consulted in our Reading Rooms.

To use the Reading Rooms and view items from the collection you will need to get a Reader Pass.

All Reading Rooms have access to online resources and a wide range of bibliographical, biographical and other reference works on the shelves. Items not on shelves will need to be requested from the catalogue and delivered to the Reading Room you are working in. Please note that some items and resources are restricted to particular rooms.

Study carrels (small booths for study) are provided in most Reading Rooms; advance booking is required.

See our video guide for more information on using our Reading Rooms.

Kings Library at the British Library

Ordering in advance

Some items in our collection are held offsite and might not be available on the day of your visit unless you order them in advance. At our Boston Spa Reading Room in Yorkshire, there is a minimum delivery time of 48 hours, and items have to be requested in advance. We recommend that all registered Readers request items in advance of their visit to make the best use of your time here.

Photography and copying services

You can use our self-service copying facilities to copy collection items, or you can photograph items free of charge. You can also print from our electronic resources. All services are subject to the Library’s Preservation policy and copyright and data protection laws.

We also offer an assisted copy service which provides copies within 24 hours.

Self-service photography

You may use compact cameras, tablets and mobile phones to photograph some categories of material free of charge. Please see the collection handling video for information on photographing items.

Self-service copying

In most Reading Rooms you will find digital scanners for books and microfilm. The Book scanners can save images to your own device and scan to email. Readers may obtain paper copies of their scans in some Reading Rooms. The microfilm scanners can scan to print or scan to email.

Reading Room staff will make a preservation and copyright check of material you want to copy. If the material is unsuitable staff will suggest alternative forms of copying.

Payment

You can pay for your copies or scans using your British Library Online Account. To credit your account, please visit:

  • the payment kiosks (Humanities – Floor 1, Science – Floor 2, the Business & IP Centre), or
  • the Copy Counter desks (Humanities – Floor 1, Rare Books and Music, Science – Floor 2, the Newsroom).