Social Sciences Reading Room

Desks, shelving and Readers in the Social Sciences Reading Room at the British Library

The Social Sciences Reading Room is on the first floor. It provides access to recently published books and journals, research reports, official publications and electronic databases.

The core of this collection focuses on the following topics: social policy and welfare, official publications, legal studies, business and management studies, sports, media, sociology, gender and women’s studies, human geography, anthropology, sociolinguistics, education, politics, government, and development studies.

In the Social Sciences Reading Room you can:

  • Find information on the open access shelves
  • Order collection items from the stores to the Reading Room
  • Access online databases and electronic books and journals
  • Read guides on our specialist collections

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.

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

Items on shelves in this Reading Room

  • Catalogues, encyclopaedias, international yearbooks, indexes and other quick reference materials
  • Academic and professional journals 
  • UK Official Publications
  • Law resources
  • Statistics, census returns, reports and databases of the OECD
  • Births Marriages and Deaths indexes
  • European Documentation Centre

Items available upon request

Readers can search and request books, reports and journal parts using our catalogue, Explore the British Library.

Excluding the open access material , the great majority of Social Sciences books, journals and reports are kept either in our basements (70 mins delivery time) or in our offsite storage areas in Boston Spa, Yorkshire (48h delivery time)

The Reading Room is also the point of access to a number of collections that are not fully described on Explore the British Library. You will need to use the directories and electronic resources to identify the items that you need. Tracing these documents can be complex, and many of these are held offsite. Please ask at the Reference Desk for help or click on the following links for guides on how to access:


Find government publications

If you can’t find a document in our catalogue, ask at the reference desk

Find European Union information online

Contacts, institutions, news and other information relating to the European Union

Family history: a guides to sources

A guide to sources for family history and genealogy research, and where to find them.

All Help guides