Maps Reading Room

Readers at desks in the Maps Reading Room

Find this room on Floor 3 in St Pancras.

We have one of the world’s largest collections of maps, plans and topographical views, dating back over 2,000 years, Exploration, mythology and art combine in our Maps Reading Room.

Here you can view mainly printed maps of all parts of the world dating back to the 15th century, along with Ordnance Survey historical maps and extensive literature related to cartography. A selection of digital maps are also available in a bespoke viewer.

There is a large collection of manuscript maps in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Who is the Maps Reading Room for?

It’s easy to get lost in a map. You might be an academic with an interest in the history of cartography; a surveyor needing information on topography or land use; or perhaps someone who just wants to know more about how their town might have looked in centuries gone by.

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

Items on the shelves in this Reading Room

Specialist reference material on history of cartography

From studies of the ancient maps of Ptolemy to the Renaissance masterpieces of the Age of Exploration, we have a huge range of books and material about the development of mapping.

Facsimile historical atlases

We hold facsimiles of some famous historical atlases, from medieval copies of Roman cartography to Mercator’s 1564 map of the British Isles.

Current modern atlases

View the most respected modern world atlases, which give unprecedented levels of detail and information on population, environmental and economic patterns.

Map librarianship literature

The Library has a wide collection of books about cataloguing, preserving and handling maps, as well as other material of interest to map librarians.

Exploration and discovery

We have a wealth of original material relating to voyages of discovery down the ages, from explorer’s journals to watercolours and charts.

Celestial cartography

Explore our comprehensive collection documenting the way people have interpreted the skies, from lunar maps and celestial globes to star charts and star atlases.

Journals: Imago Mundi and Map Collector

Browse our collection of academic journals about mapping and cartography, including Imago Mundi, published twice a year.

Maps, catalogues and Indices

Ordnance Survey maps

You can view the most comprehensive, publicly accessible collection of Ordnance Survey maps in the world in this Reading Room. Among the collection are historic OS maps, including the 6inch to 1 mile county series maps for England and Wales, and the one inch to the mile Old Series, first published in 1805.

Digital maps

The digital maps viewer provides an easy-to-use interface that can be used to search and compare maps and geospatial data. The legal deposit libraries collect Ordnance Survey Great Britain MasterMap and Ordnance Survey Northern Ireland Large Scale mapping each year and have done so since 1998. These snapshots can be accessed alongside digital maps from other publishers such as British Geological Survey and XYZ maps.

Items available to order to this Reading Room

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

H2: Using the Maps Reading Room

Anyone with a British Library Reader Pass can access the Maps 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 Maps Reference Team directly, use our Quick Chat service, or get in touch via Twitter.


How to handle folded items

See how to handle folded items like inserts in books, large maps or charters.

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.

Order items

Order items from our catalogue of over 170 million items and they'll be waiting for you in our Reading Rooms.

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