Collections teaching: options, resources and booking

This webpage outlines the variety of ways that we can support teaching with collections sessions. The form at the bottom of the page is where you can book these sessions.

Using pre-recorded and ready-digitised material

There is already a range of digital resources and digitised material that can be easily embedded on Blackboard for use in teaching.


We have a set of videos created to help students navigate and access the collections. Topics covered include searching and understanding the collections database, subject specific collection highlights and a general introduction to the collections (coming soon). We can provide access to these via Microsoft Stream so that you can embed them into your teaching resources on Blackboard.


Some of the collections can be viewed on the Enterprise catalogue, including some of the key photographic collections. Enterprise can be accessed here and there is also a short video guide to searching for photographic material.

Virtual Reading Room

Our Virtual Reading Room (VRR) interface provides access to digitised content from the collections. You can access thousands of items from the University of Reading’s Special Collections, Art Collections and Museum of English Rural Life (The MERL). Simply register yourself for the VRR, explore and identify material that you wish to use, and make a list of the material for circulation to your students so that they can search and locate it in the session. In order for us to guarantee access, students should register no later than one week before the scheduled session.

More collection resources are available at:
Art UK
Google Arts & Culture
• The Visual Arts Data Service (VADS)

If you use any of our resources in your teaching, we would love to hear about it.

Creating or enhancing digital resources

*Please note that some collections are closed or have specific access requirements and so cannot be provided at short notice*

Recording collection videos

We offer staff the opportunity to book a session to record short videos featuring The MERL, Special Collections and Art Collections items for use in teaching.

Recordings will be made with a HD camera with a microphone attached, operated by a member of collections staff.

More details about this service can be found here.

Adding content to the Virtual Reading Room

We can offer to scan collection material and add it to the Virtual Reading Room for use in teaching sessions. This will enable students to remotely examine items – for example, in close analysis exercises.

Please note that any digitisation will need to comply with copyright licensing guidelines.

Consider limiting your focus to a few key manuscripts, letters or pages of rare books, for example. We can assist with narrowing down and identifying specific material.

There may be a charge for some digitisation requests, especially for external institutions.

Please contact us to request scans of material as far in advance before the session to enable us enough time to make the copies. We have to identify material, check for copyright issues, before scanning and processing material so that it is available in time for the session.

Please see the Virtual Reading Room access and registration process above.

Running live sessions

Collections staff can connect live into virtual sessions to provide:
• A quick introduction to the collections – this can be tailored around specific collections
• A guide on how to access the collections
• A live behind the scenes tour of one of our collection storerooms, enabling students to see the size and breadth of the collections
• Show collection items on an overhead camera, complementing digitised collection content featured in the session

Alternatively, we may be able to accommodate you to conduct the collections element live from the collections.

The live elements of virtual sessions require planning in advance, so please discuss any of these elements with us so we can provide them for you.

You can book face-to-face teaching with collections sessions. These will need to comply with the latest health and safety guidelines in relation to COVID-19.

• The maximum capacity for these sessions is 12 including students, yourself, and a member of the collections team to supervise
• Desk and students will be spaced apart as per University guidelines on social distancing
• Collection items will be laid out on desks before the session begins and collected in once the room has been vacated
• Collection items can only be handled by one person during the entirety of the session. Consider assigning students to specific items as only one student can handle a specific item.
• Collections will be prepared for the session and collected in at the end by a member of collections staff wearing protective gloves
• Gloves should not be worn when handling paper-based items and hands should be washed with soap rather than alcohol hand gel

Over the Summer, we will provide a guide for students and staff on how to access the building, the layout of teaching spaces and health and safety measures in place.

Booking sessions

To book a teaching with collections session for The MERL and University of Reading Collections, please complete the booking form below.

To book a teaching session using the Art Collections, please click here.

If you have any questions about the support we can offer you, please contact us by email:
• Special Collections:
• The MERL:
• Art Collections:


Your completed form will be sent to our operations and collections staff. You will be contacted about our room availability for the date and time requested first. Once a room has been allocated, a member of collections staff will contact you to discuss the details of your session before confirming it. If you are a module convener booking on behalf of other academics who will also be teaching sessions as part of your module, please include their names when completing the form below.


We have several rooms available at Special Collections that can be used for teaching with collections. These vary in capacity from 8 to 22 students and have AV projection facilities. As with our reading room, we do not permit bags, pens, food or drinks in the same room as collections. We have a set of free lockers which can be used to store these items during the session and hangers for coats.


A member of collections staff will set up the room to your requirements and will be present throughout the session to supervise the handling of collections. If your students have not attended a session before, we will provide a standard induction which will include an overview of our collections, how to access the collections and a collections handling demonstration (10 mins). We can also offer a demonstration of searching our collections catalogue which is useful for students who will be using the collections as part of an assignment, as well as an overview of specific collections featured as part of the session. You can request these options in the form below.