Manuscripts Reading Room

Readers at desks in the Manuscript Reading Room

Find this room on Floor 2 in St Pancras.

Our manuscripts collection includes literary and historical manuscripts, pre-1500 music manuscripts, private papers, manuscript maps, charters, seals, Greek and Latin papyri and Greek ostraca.

Looking for post-1500 music manuscripts? These can be viewed in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room.

Non–western language manuscripts can be viewed in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room.

Who is the Manuscripts Reading Room for?

Anyone can use our Manuscripts Reading Room. All you need is a Reader Pass.

This Reading Room is especially useful for anyone interested in what ancient and medieval manuscripts say about the times in which they were written. Classical and historical scholars yes, but also people researching their family or local history, linguists and musicians, art historians and humanities students. 

How the Manuscripts Reading Room can help you

Please note that not all of our western manuscripts have online catalogue records, but these can be found in the old handwritten and printed catalogues on open access in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

In the Manuscripts Reading Room you can:

  • Order manuscript collection items to view in the Reading Room using our Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue
  • Find reference material on the open access shelves about our collection of western manuscripts and those held elsewhere
  • Access online databases and electronic journals and books.
  • To view records of our western manuscripts, you can use our Explore Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue. Please note that not all our western manuscripts have online catalogue records, but these can be found in the handwritten and printed catalogues on the open access shelves in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Items on the shelves in this Reading Room

  • catalogues and indexes of manuscripts, microfilms and facsimiles in our collection
  • catalogues of manuscripts not held in our collection
  • editions of manuscripts and collected correspondence
  • reference material relating to collection items
  • history of manuscript production and palaeography
  • dictionaries of ancient and modern western languages
  • records of early government archives and records
  • ecclesiastical and Bible history
  • British historical sources
  • national biographies
  • art history and iconography
  • history of English literature and drama
  • British chronicles
  • heraldry and peerage
  • items available to order to this Reading Room

You can use our catalogue Explore Archives and Manuscripts to order manuscript collection items to view in the Reading Room.

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

Using the Manuscripts Reading Room

Anyone with a British Library Reader Pass can access the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Get a 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.

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 Manuscripts Reference Team directly, use our Quick Chat service, or get in touch via Twitter.


Access manuscripts and archives

Accessing manuscripts and archives and obtaining a Letter of introduction or recommendation

Get your Reader Pass

Your Reader Pass is a library card that gives you free access to our collections and Reading Rooms in London and Yorkshire.

Can I copy material in the Reading Rooms?

There are a range of options available to copy our material

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