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Researching at the British Library - the new norm?

Updated: Sep 23, 2020

After being closed for the last four months, the British Library is now welcoming readers back to their reading rooms. Navigating the process of getting into the library has now changed with a ticketing system being in place.

How to get a British Library ticket

In order to be open and safe for readers, the Library is limiting how many people will be allowed in and to do this, the first step in the process is securing a ticket.

To get yourself a table slot for the following week, each Thursday at 11am (GMT) the British Library releases tickets. Think of this a little like trying to get Wimbledon tickets.

To get your ticket, head to this page at 11am on Thursday – and head down towards the section where it says ‘Book here for:’ (See screenshot below). At 11am, you should be able to click on the respective room you would like to use eg. Humanities 1, St Pancras – follow the link, choose the slot time you would like eg. 11am-14pm, and follow the rest of the instructions.

Once you’ve got your ticket, you will receive an email from the British Library Box Office with a pdf version. There is no need to print this out, but just make sure you have access to it on your phone on the day you’re visiting.

Ordering collection items

So you’ve got your ticket and place booked in for the following week – congrats! Now you have to request the books / items that you want to see.

Make sure you request any items that you wish to use before Friday afternoon of that week (if your session is on the following Monday/ Tuesday). You must order your items up to 48-hours before your booked Reading Room session, otherwise, you won’t get to see it!

Books/items are limited to five items per visit – so chose wisely!

To order books or collection items, go to the British Library Explore page. Searching in the ‘Main catalogue’ search bar, enter the book you would like to see. Once you have found your book – click ‘I want this’ at the bottom right of the book details, which will open a smaller window below. You should see the option for ‘Deliver item to: The British Library's Reading Rooms (for registered Readers only)’ – this is what you want! Click on the red ‘GO’ button, which will open a new window in your browser and log in.

Once logged in, you’ll be presented with another page – select the item you want to order and press ‘Add to Basket. On the next screen (see below), choose the date of your visit and the room you will be going to eg. ‘Humanities 1’, and press request.

There you go – you’ve requested your first item! Continue with this process for the other four books/items.

On the day of visiting

Before making the journey to the British Library make your life easier – make sure you have a facemask, a VALID reader's card & transparent plastic bag. Get your bag ready for the library room.

(Please note, no kittens are allowed into the reading rooms - one day can dream)

Please note that you’ll have to wear a face-covering in all areas of the Library, but once at your desk you can remove it.

Sadly the British Library are not allowing food into the premises – so keep this in mind before you bring last night’s lobster thermidor for lunch.

On the day, arrive 15 mins before allotted time (head to Gate 2 - Ossulston Street). Join the queue - bask in the sun (hopefully), say hi to your fellow readers (at a social distance of course).

You'll eventually make your way to the white office building - show them your card and ticket.

Once through, follow the arrows on the floor and make your way through the deserted piazza at the front. You'll be instructed to wait until you're asked to come through to have your bag searched. Make life easier, have the zips on your bag already open (kind’a like the good old days before the virus).

Inside the library

Once inside, again, follow the one-way system and arrows, and head down to the cloakroom - you can get your transparent bag there if you didn’t bring one. Wait in another line for the cloakroom and get your belongings stored. Wahoo, you've made it! (almost...)

Follow the one-way system, head up the stairs to the floor you need. There will be signs for the specific Reading Room you’ve booked into.

It's pretty insane how quiet the whole library is...

Inside the reading room

Once in the reading room you've booked into, show your ticket and reader's pass to the security at the door, head to the Issue Desk - they will give you your items and allocate you a seat number.

Spend the next 5 mins trying to find said seat number...

Once found - you've made it! All you need to do now is sit down & do some work...

The whole process is very easy - all the British Library staff are really helpful and super friendly.

Happy researching!

Please note:

Make sure you wear your mask when making your way to the reading room.

Water fountains are out of use! As someone who gets really dehydrated, you'll have to get some liquid/caffeine fix down at the cafe at the bottom which is open.

If you can't make your slot - cancel it! There are limited numbers for users and if you don't turn up you're taking the space for someone else who might desperately need to do work.

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