Special Collections brings together the University of Reading’s collections of rare books, archives and manuscripts. A remarkable resource for collections-based learning and research across the University, the collections are here for everyone to discover, explore, and be fascinated by, from schools and group visits, to creative practitioners and members of the public.
Our collections, which include over 40,000 rare books and several kilometres of archives and manuscripts, are substantial and varied, particularly for a University of this age and size. The majority result from donations: the tradition of acquiring special material is as old as the University, the bequest of the Overstone Library in 1920 setting a pattern. The collecting of manuscripts and archives began in a systematic way in the 1960s, and from the start has been dominated by the programme to collect and manage British publishers’ archives.
As well as representing a remarkable resource for collections-based learning and research across the University, our museums and collections are here for everyone to discover, explore, and be fascinated by, from schools and group visits, to creative practitioners and members of the public.
Through this website, social media, our pleasant reading room facilities and our public programme, we encourage anyone with an interest in history and culture to discover the breadth and depth of the collections. We are based on Redlands Road in a building originally designed by Sir Alfred Waterhouse in 1880 for local businessman Alfred Palmer of the Huntley & Palmers biscuit company.
Our professional team of librarians and archivists is also responsible for significant collections within The Museum of English Rural Life, and we work closely with colleagues there and from across the University’s museums and collections, in order to care for the collections and support our users. We are an Accredited Archive Service.
The Museum of English Rural Life and the University’s Special Collections are housed in the same building, and run and managed by the Museum Director and Head of Service, Kate Arnold-Forster. Our Annual Reviews include information about the activity of both The MERL and the Special Collections Service.
Our Annual Reviews give a broad overview of what The MERL and Special Collections have achieved each academic year. This includes what we have done in our public programmes, our involvement in research, our digital work, any new acquisitions, and much more.