Humanities Reading Room

Readers at desks in the Humanities 1 Reading Room

Find these rooms on Floor 1 and 2 in St Pancras.

Our two Humanities Reading Rooms provide access to our collection of post-1850 printed books and journals. You can find major arts and humanities reference works on Floor 1 and specialist library and information science and recorded sound collections on Floor 2.

Who are the Humanities Reading Rooms for?

Anyone can use our Humanities Reading Rooms. All you need is a Reader Pass.

Undergraduates, researchers, academics, lovers of literature, history and the arts – these rooms are simply for anyone with an interest in the humanities. You don’t have to be involved in humanities studies; you might want to know more about your favourite author, the county where you live or you just need to expand your general knowledge.

How the Humanities Reading Rooms can help you

In the Humanities Reading Rooms 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 journalsand electronic books and journals
  • Access digitised audio-visual collections
  • Use our carrels. These are small study booths containing specialised equipment to assist with reading collection items.

Items on the shelves in Humanities 1 Reading Room

Calendar of State Papers

The Calendar of State Papers is a register documenting the activities of the British crown and government at home and in its colonies in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

The 11th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica is available on our shelves. A comprehensive archive of the most famous general knowledge encyclopaedia can be ordered to the Reading Room by using our catalogue.

Grove Dictionary of Art

The 34-volume Grove Dictionary of Art covers the history of Western and non-Western art, with 45,000 different articles written by art experts from 120 countries. 

Harleian Society Publications

The volumes published by the Harleian Society document the heraldic visitations that regulated coats of arms in England, Ireland and Wales since Tudor times.

Monumenta Germaniae Historica

This major work of historical scholarship is a record of primary sources for the study of north-western and central European peoples from the Dark Ages to 1500.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

The 60 volumes of the Oxford DNB includes biographies of more than 60,000 men and women who have shaped the history and culture of Britain from Roman times to the 21st century.

Pevsner Architectural Guides

Nikolaus Pevsner’s definitive illustrated record of architecture of the Buildings of England is on the shelves in Humanities 1.

Rolls Series

The Rolls Series is a collection of British and Irish chronicles and memorials of the Middle Ages, published in 253 volumes between 1858 and 1911.

Times Literary Supplement

We hold back copy volumes with issues of the TLS dating back to the launch of the literary periodical in 1902.

Victoria County Histories

The Victoria County Histories are a series of encyclopaedic histories of the counties of England, first published in 1899 and ongoing to this day.

Who’s Who

One of the world’s longest running reference books, Who’s Who has been published every year since 1849, with biographies of the most influential British people of the day.

Items on the shelves in Humanities 2 Reading Room

BBC Sound Archive catalogues

If you’re looking for BBC radio recordings from before 1992, you can use the printed catalogues or microfiche (shelfmark HUS025.348209421) to search the BBC Sound Archive.

Books on music, broadcasting, the history of recorded sound and oral history

We hold a range of reference material about music, radio and the spoken word.

Current music journals

Our collection of music periodicals covers the technical aspects of the recording industry as well as reviews of the latest music trends and productions. Prominent titles include Billboard, Melody Makers, Radio Times, Sight & Sound, Rolling Stones, and Record Collectors, among other music publications.

EMI Music Archive on microfilm

You can use microfilm to access our EMI Music Archive, one of the world’s largest collections of music material and artefacts related to the record company.

Original record company catalogues

We hold record catalogues from the major labels (mainly US, UK and Europe) divided by country and arranged alphabetically and chronologically on the open access shelves. They can help with locating commercial recordings in our collection.

Published discographies

Published discographies are divided by genre and artist.

Items available to order to these Reading Rooms

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

Most of our humanities collection needs to be ordered to the Reading Rooms, often 48 hours in advance, with only limited major reference material available on our open shelves.

Using the Humanities Reading Rooms

Anyone with a British Library Reader Pass can access the Humanities Reading Rooms.

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 the collection
  • Help you to access our audio-visual collections via the Listening & Viewing Service

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 Humanities Reference Team or the Sound & Vision Reference Team directly, use our Quick Chat service, or get in touch via Twitter.


Can I copy material in the Reading Rooms?

There are a range of options available to copy our material

Can I take photographs of British Library material?

You can use your own phone, tablet or compact camera to photograph some of our collections

Search for resources in microforms

How to search for resources in microforms

All Help guides