Asian & African Studies Reading Room

Readers at desks in the Asian and African Reading Room

Find this room on Floor 3 in St Pancras.

You can consult Oriental manuscripts, printed books and serials, as well as East India Company records, India Office records and Private Papers.

Who is the Asian & African Studies Reading Room for?

Anyone can use the Asian & African Studies Reading Room. All you need is a Reader Pass. Typical users include Asian Studies and African Studies undergraduates or postgraduates, military historians, academics and people researching their family histories in Asia, Africa and India.

In the Asian & African Studies Reading Room you can:

  • order collection items to view in the Reading Room using our catalogues 
  • use our open access collection material on the shelves
  • access online databases and electronic books and journals.

Items on the shelves in this Reading Room

Specialist reference material on Asia North and Sub-Saharan Africa

Single and multi-volume encyclopaedias, dictionaries and bibliographies.

Printed catalogues of Oriental manuscripts and early printed books

Catalogues of manuscript and printed material in our collection, and published catalogues of other libraries holding major collections of orientalist material.

India Office Records and Private Papers handlists

Descriptions of the files and volumes in the archive of the colonial administration of India from 1600 to 1947 from the East India Company and the India Office, along with guides to our collection of unpublished private papers from the same period.

Indexes to baptisms, marriages and burials in pre-Independence India and Burma

120 volumes of name indexes.

Microfilmed records of baptisms, marriages and burials

Kept in cabinets near the indexes they relate to.

Indian directories and almanacs

Various all-India and regional directories, calendars and almanacs from the late 18th century up to and beyond independence in 1947.

Indian Army and Civil Service lists

These contain details of military and civilian employees of the British administration of India during the period of British rule.

Asian and African Studies journals

Latest issues of some of the leading journals in Asian and African Studies, such as The Journal of Asian Studies and Modern Asian Studies.

The Print Room

Visual materials from our Asian & African collection such as photographs, prints, drawings and paintings can be consulted in the Print Room, which is located inside the Reading Room. You’ll need to make an appointment by contacting

Items available to order to this Reading Room

You can consult our catalogues to order collection items to view in this Reading Room.

Some of our Oriental language published works are stored at our other site in Yorkshire and will take 48 hours to be delivered to this Reading Room.

Using the Asian & African Studies Reading Room

Anyone with a British Library Reader Pass can access the Asian & African Studies Reading Room.

Get your Reader Pass.

Reference enquiries

If you need help, ask our Reference Specialists at the Enquiry Desk. They can:

  • Guide you to the most appropriate material for your research
  • Advise you on how to access and use our printed and electronic collection and resources most effectively
  • Help you to use our catalogues and answer your bibliographic questions
  • Suggest other libraries, archives and institutions that you might find useful in your research, or guide you to relevant websites and free online resources
  • Provide a range of free Reader sessions and 1-2-1 consultations to help you find your way around our collection.

If your enquiry requires more specialist help than we can provide we will forward your enquiry to the appropriate person in the Library or suggest alternative sources.

If you are unable to visit you can contact the Asian & African Studies Reference Team, use our Quick Chat service, or get in touch via Twitter.


Find Chinese books and manuscripts

You may need to consult a number of different catalogues to find items in our Chinese collection.

Get your Reader Pass

All you need to explore our collections is a Reader Pass.

Find Persian manuscripts

Our Persian manuscripts collection includes more than 11,000 works. Details are to be found in a number of catalogues

All Help guides