A guide to the Special Collections Reading Room at the Bodleian Library. The Special Collections Reading Room is for readers of medieval and modern Western Manuscripts, Oriental Manuscripts, Rare Books, and the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera.
Special Collections has moved!
In preparation for the refurbishment of the New Bodleian Library, a large proportion of Special Collections material has been relocated temporarily.
During this period the Special Collections material and open-shelf books formerly available in the New Bodleian Library will be available for consultation in the Radcliffe Science Library (RSL) [map available].
Opening times are:
TERM (weeks 1-8) Weekdays 09.00-22.00
VACATIONS Weekdays 09.00-19.00
Duke Humfrey's Library will continue to provide access to manuscripts and rare books not transferred to the Radcliffe Science Library, including the Conservative Party Archive and Oxford University Archives.
Visiting researchers from outside Oxford are advised to book in advance as seating is at a premium at certain times of the year (notably Hilary (Spring) Term and the summer months). The room can also be cold during the winter, so please take that into consideration. For advice please email email@example.com
For details of the material that has been moved please see:
For further information please contact:
Tel: 01865 277046
Noise and possible disturbance
This is to inform you that the University Estates are engaged in work on the pavements above this reading room and in the vicinity until January 2013.
We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause and will endeavour to provide regular updates.
Thank you for your forbearance and understanding. Please address any specific issues or difficulties to me. Thank you.
Colin Harris, Superintendent of the Special Collections Reading Rooms, 24 September, 2012
What is read here?
The Special Collections Reading Room (SCRR) is the research reading room for:
Modern western manuscripts
John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera
[Please note: Consultation of materials in the John Johnson Collection is now only possible by prior arrangement with the Librarian of the John Johnson Collection. Please email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or telephone (+ 44 (0)1865 277047) well in advance. Further information is available at the John Johnson Collection website.]
Booking a place in advanceThe reading room has 44 seats available to readers. To avoid disappointment we strongly recommend that you book a seat in advance, advising us of the collection(s) you wish to consult.
You can do so by telephone, email or in person during our daytime opening hours Monday – Friday 9am-5pm.
Please note that you should contact us at least 48 hours before your intended visit!
To book a seat please contact:
Ordering material in advanceYou may order up to ten items per day by email, telephone or in person.
Special Collections printed items and other books can be ordered remotely on SOLO with your Bodleian Library reader's card. (Your reader's card and/or Single Sign-On username and password give you access to SOLO.)
Please note that our manuscripts are not catalogued on SOLO and that you need to order them by email, telephone or in person by filling in the green order forms in the reading room.
To order material, please contact:
Bodleian Library Special Collections Reading Room
Radcliffe Science Library
Bookings: email@example.comWe are situated in the Radcliffe Science Library [find the library] in the Lankester Room (Level 2) [locate the reading room]
The Special Collections Reading Room is staffed throughout opening hours and the staff are happy to help with any enquiries about medieval, modern and oriental manuscripts, rare books and ephemera with regard to their extent and availability, the fetching/delivery time, photography or photocopying, and assist with SOLO, the online databases accessible via OXLIP, as well as with the catalogues and handlists of manuscript and special collections administered in the Special Collections Reading Room.
Please note that the full range of reader services is only provided from 09.00 to 17.00 Monday to Friday, and that after 17.00 on weekdays and on Saturdays staff may have refer particular enquiries to regular (weekday) daytime staff.
If you have access or academic enquiries about our collections please contact:
Superintendent of Reading Rooms: Colin Harris
tel: +44 (0)1865 (2)77150
Collections Access Enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org
Reference Librarian (Western Manuscripts): Eva Oledzka
tel: +44 (0)1865 (2)77152
Western Manuscripts Research and Academic Enquiries: email@example.com
Other Specialist advice is available:
Oriental Manuscripts and Rare Books
tel: +44 (0)1865 (2)77046
John Johnson Collection
tel: +44 (0)01865 (2)77047
tel: +44 (0)01865 (2)77102
Reading Room Bookings and Orders:
Principal Library Assistant: Julia Wagner
Principal Library Assistant: Victoria Saywell
Principal Library Assistant: Rebecca Wall
tel: +44 (0)1865 (2)77046
Bookings and Orders: firstname.lastname@example.org
Manuscript and pre-1641, special and rare book collections
These collections are numerous, wide-ranging in their subjects, and of international importance. In general they are available to academics, students of all levels and independent researchers, although some collections require special permission before they may be consulted, while others are yet to be released for consultation. The collections studied in the Special Collections Reading Room are:
- Medieval and Early Modern manuscripts
- Modern manuscripts (historical, political, literary and scientific), from the reign of Queen Victoria (1837) until the present day
- Deposited (‘Dep’ or ‘D.D.’)
- Oriental manuscripts and rare books
- Rare books
Please consult the Special Collections web pages for further information.
Also, please check the Temporary Move of Special Collections website to check the availability of collections.
Access and admissions
Readers with A cards may order manuscripts and pre-1641, special and rare books. Readers with S or V cards may not consult these materials (including all undergraduates and some taught postgraduates).
Access to specific manuscripts and pre-1641, special and rare books may be granted to undergraduates and taught postgraduates holding S or V cards with the prior recommendation and support of their dissertation supervisor or tutor. Oxford students should deliver a letter of recommendation from their dissertation supervisor or tutor to the staff of Duke Humfrey’s Library or the Special Collections Reading Room before material is requested. Modern History finalists should deliver a copy of the form (PDF, 8kb) completed by their supervisor or tutor.
Undergraduates and taught postgraduates outside Oxford should always make application to consult manuscript, special and rare book collections prior to a visit, with an advance letter or email from their dissertation supervisor, supporting the request for access, and addressed to the Superintendent of the Special Collections Reading Rooms. In general admission is during Oxford University vacations, but visits during term will be considered.
For further details of the admissions’ requirements and procedure, please view the Bodleian Libraries' Admissions web pages and/or contact us for our specific advice.
Ordering books and manuscripts
You may order up to ten items per day by email, telephone or in person.
Tel: 01865 277046
To order printed books, including rare books, to be delivered to the Special Collections Reading Room using the Hold system in SOLO, select the option Special Collections RR. A maximum of ten orders may be made at any one time, including manuscript and non-SOLO requests.
To order manuscripts and those printed items not listed on SOLO, please complete green order slips provided at the staff desk, and ask staff for an estimate of the delivery time. This will vary depending on the collection according to the location of the material, but in general 1 hour is the average waiting time. There is no fetching/delivery service after 15.45 weekdays, after 15.00 on Saturdays in term time (or after 13.00 on Saturdays in vacation). Material is automatically reserved for one week (7 days) and this reservation may be renewed on request.
Advice on the use of manuscript and pre-1641, special and rare book collections
The manuscripts and books available in this reading room are part of the Bodleian's great inheritance. To help us preserve them for future generations, we ask all readers:
1. To leave bags and cases in the lockers;
2. To sign in at the staff desk on first using the reading room, so that staff can advise on collections and services;
3. To use pencils only or a laptop, and not to use pens, paints, obliterating or erasing liquids. The use of scanners is not permitted;
4. To read all bound manuscripts and rare books on appropriate-sized foam book-rests, as provided in the reading room. Pages of a bound volume on a book-rest and loose documents being used flat on the desk may be gently held in place by cotton-linked weights or snakes, available from the staff desk. Cotton gloves are not used for manuscript consultation at the Bodleian Library;
5. To consult only one box or file of loose documents at a time;
6. To close manuscripts or books whenever you leave your desk, and return them to the staff desk whenever you leave the Library;
7. To take great care to keep loose or fasciculed papers in order;
8. Not to touch illuminations or any written area in a manuscript. A slip of acid-free paper may be used to follow a written text. Please do not place anything else on an open book or manuscript, or take notes on top of a manuscript or book, whether open or closed;
9. Not to bring any food (including sweets) or drink to the Reading Room;
10. Switch the laptops and mobile phones to silent mode.
In addition, please note that:
1. Two or more readers may not use the same manuscript at the same time without permission from a senior member of staff;
2. Items on exhibition are not available for readers (microfilm copies are usually available for consultation);
3. Copying a book or manuscript by tracing, painting or rubbing is not permitted.
4. Computers, bags, and other personal property, may not be left with staff;
5. Desks may be reserved but material may not be left on a desk overnight;
6. If the fire alarm sounds at any time readers should leave books, manuscripts and personal property at their desks and evacuate the building as quickly as possible under the direction of the staff.
Open shelf printed material
For a current distribution of open-access resources (books and microfilms) please see: Where to consult special collections
For more information on collection moves, please check the Temporary Move of Special Collections website.
Mobile steps, kicksteps, and other items of height access equipment are available to help readers retrieve open shelf books from the higher shelves of bookcases. Before using equipment of this type, please make a visual check that it is not damaged or faulty. Please take care when using the equipment, and if it is unstable, let staff know straightaway, and then find another set of steps. When using sets of steps with hooved or cup feet, please take particular care not to knock the feet against bookcases or skirting boards, as this can distort them and make the steps unstable.
Book replacing is undertaken every weekday morning between 8:45 and 9:00am.
Computer and laptop facilities
Computers are available in the Special Collections Reading Room for readers to consult SOLO, and internet resources of academic interest. All reader seats are equipped with power sockets and ethernet points, for connection to the internet, and wireless is available (see information about using a laptop).
Photocopying and printing
PCAS allows you to pay for your prints, photocopies and scans online. Please see the Making a Copy page to set up a PCAS account.
The library offers a number of ways in which readers may obtain photocopies or digital images of manuscript and pre-1900 printed materials (which you cannot copy or scan yourself). For full details, please refer to the mediated copying page.
Printing from computers in the Special Collections Reading Room can be collected within 72 hours from any photocopier in the University. Log in at the photocopier using your Bodleian reader's card and PCAS account. For further information, please refer to the Print, Scan & Copy page.
A self-service photocopying area is available in the Lankester Room and in the Radcliffe Science Library foyer. Please present any published items printed after 1900 from which you wish to make copies to staff. Full details of what can be copied and of other copying services are given by the making a copy page.
Please note that all photocopiers are turned off and that staff-service photocopy orders are not accepted from 30 minutes before closing.
Please note that it is now possible to take personal digital photographs of some of our material. Please ask staff for further advice and permission forms.
Microfiche and microfilm readers are available in the Special Collections Reading Room (please book in advance). A reader-printer with payment by PCAS (see the making a copy page for prices) is available in the Lankester Room.
An ultra-violet lamp and a fibre-optic light sheet are available on application to reading room staff. A collator is available in the Duke Humfrey's Library in the Old Bodleian.
This commences half an hour before closure, when windows will be closed and ladders moved away from the aisles. Reader computers will be turned off 20 minutes before closure. A bell will be rung 10 minutes before closure, which is the signal for readers to finish working and leave. Please ensure that you take all your belongings with you when you leave the Library.
Please note that photocopiers are turned off and that staff-service photocopy orders are not accepted from 30 minutes before closing.
Fire exits and assembly point
Exit the Special Collections Reading Room via either of the doors. Assemble in the car park in front of RSL and await instructions from the Duty Fire Officer. Readers must leave the building promptly when the fire alarm sounds or when instructed to by Library staff.