Using the Bodleian Old Library

Four rows of wooden desks, each with wooden separators. Five students are dotted at the desks around the room.


  • The Bodleian Old Library is open to all University and Bodleian Reader card holders. You must have your card with you in order to enter the library.
  • If you are not a member of the University, find out more about how to apply to join the Bodleian Libraries as a Bodleian Reader.
  • Information about public tours of the Bodleian Old Library is available on our Visit website.

Rules and regulations

The Bodleian Libraries Regulations and Rules of Conduct apply in this library.  

Please note the following local rules:

  • The library is reference-only; no books may be borrowed.
  • For security reasons, any bags must be presented for inspection on request when entering or leaving the buildings.
  • You may bring water in a sealable container and hot drinks in a KeepCup (or equivalent container with a sealable sippable lid) into the Bodleian Old Library, except Duke Humfrey's Library.
  • Food must not be consumed anywhere in the library, including the stairs and landings.
  • You may not take bags and coats into Duke Humfrey's Library. Please make use of the lockers available (see below). 

General information

  • View a map (PDF) of the Bodleian Old Library.  
  • Readers can use the lockers on the ground floor of the library. These require a pound coin or token, which can be purchased from the Bodleian Shop. You can carry belongings needed for use in Duke Humfrey's Library in the clear plastic bags provided in the locker area.
  • A reader common room is open to library users and staff, accessed from the stairs behind the South Proscholium entrance. Readers may consume their own food and drinks here.
  • If the fire alarm sounds, exit via the North or South staircases and the Proscholium, and assemble in Brasenose Lane. Readers must leave the building promptly when the fire alarm sounds or when instructed to by library staff.

Guide to navigating the Bodleian Old Library

Guide to reading room spaces

Find out more about the workspaces within the Bodleian Old Library.

Using the collections


All printed materials held in the library can be found on SOLO, Oxford University's library catalogue. For each item, SOLO provides a shelfmark and location information. Items available on open shelves are displayed with their location: ‘Lower Reading Room Open Shelves’, ‘Upper Reading Room Open Shelves’ or ‘Duke Humfrey’s Library Open Shelves’. The item’s shelfmark will help you to locate it.  

The Lower Reading Room is partitioned into smaller rooms:

  • north side: General Reference, Classics Latin and Classics Greek
  • south side: Patristics, Theology and Philosophy
  • central ‘Tower Room’ : Late Antiquity and the beginning of the Classics Greek collections

The Upper Reading Room holds printed books and periodicals published after 1640 in the subject fields of:

  • Medieval and Modern History
  • History of Science
  • English Language and Literature

Duke Humfrey’s Library holds collections supporting higher-level studies in the Humanities. The collections include local history, historical reference, historical biography and University history.

Find out more about the collections held in each of the Old Library reading rooms.

Open shelf material is replaced throughout the day if it is left on replacement trolleys or if it appears to be finished with on empty desks. 


  • The library provides mobile steps, kick-steps and other equipment to help readers retrieve open shelf books from the higher shelves.
  • Before using equipment of this type, please make a visual check that the equipment is not damaged or faulty. Take care when using the equipment. If it is unstable, please inform staff immediately, and find alternative equipment to use.  
  • When using mobile 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.  
  • Some sets of black steps in the Upper Reading Room have a sprung mechanism whereby the steps move against the main frame. Please take care not to trap your fingers as this mechanism moves. 
  • When taking a book from open shelves, please fill out an ‘open shelf slip’ to indicate the item is in use. You can find these in each reading room, on windowsills or at the ends of rolling shelves.
  • Readers may take books from open shelves and use them in other reading rooms in the library.


Most material cannot be reserved in advance or overnight. However, Bodleian material on open shelves in the Lower Gladstone Link can be left on an overnight reserve trolley in the Lower Reading Room, near the Enquiry Desk. Bodleian Old Library books from the Lower Gladstone Link left on this trolley after 11.30am on one day will be kept until 11.30am the next day. Books from other reading rooms and closed stack books will be removed (this includes History Faculty Library material from the Lower Gladstone Link).