Humanities Reading Room

Readers at desks in the Humanities 1 Reading Room

The Humanities Reading Rooms on Floors 1 and 2 have a wealth of information and resources to help you in your research.

The two rooms provide access to the British Library's collection of post-1850 printed books and journals. You will find major arts and humanities reference works on floor 1 and specialist library and information science and recorded sound collections on floor 2.  

In the Humanities Reading Rooms you can:

  • View our extensive open access collection material
  • Access online databases and electronic books and journals
  • Access digitised audio-visual collections
  • Order collection items to the Reading Room via our catalogues
  • Use carrels, small study booths, containing specialised equipment to assist with reading collection items

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 collections most effectively
  • Help you to use our catalogues and answer your bibliographic enquiries
  • 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 collections and to make the best use of them.
  • 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 British 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.

Items on the shelves in this Reading Room

Floor 1 covers major humanities subjects, such as literature, the arts, religious studies and history. The collection is arranged according to the Dewey decimal classification. This material includes guides to key critical works in each subject field, subject specific encyclopaedias, dictionaries and bibliographies, and guides to major periodicals. There are also guides to literature in a range of languages other than English. Key titles include:

  • Calendar of State Papers
  • Contemporary Authors
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica
  • Grove Dictionary of Art
  • Harleian Society Publications
  • Monumenta Germaniae Historica
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  • Pevsner Architectural Guides
  • Rolls Series
  • Times Literary Supplement
  • Victoria County Histories
  • Who’s Who

Floor 2 focuses on reference works and some journals for library and information science, theses, periodical indexes and recorded sound. The recorded sound collections include:

  • BBC Sound Archive catalogues
  • Books on music, broadcasting, the history of recorded sound and oral history
  • Current music journals
  • EMI Music Archive on microfilm
  • Original record company catalogues
  • Published discographies


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

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