The reading room service has temporarily moved to an alternative space in the building while maintenance work takes place in our usual space. The visit information below still applies except for the following:

  • the open access library is closed for browsing so volumes from these shelves should be pre-ordered alongside other collection requests

We will be posting an update when we know more about the timescales for the maintenance work. 

Opening times

Tuesday to Friday: 9.30am-12.30pm, 1.30pm-4.00pm (we will close for an hour at lunch).
We will stagger the arrival times of researchers during the first 30 minutes of opening and we will inform you of your arrival slot.
We will need to close promptly at the end of each session. Please allow time at the end of each session to collect your things. The reading room will not be accessible between 12.30-1.30pm.

How can I book a place in the reading room?

If you wish to book a space in The MERL and University of Reading Special Collections reading room, please email: or

Please indicate:

  • the day you wish to visit
  • if you would like to book for all day
  • which archives or rare books (including references) you wish to consult

Please let us know a week in advance when you wish to visit the reading room so that we can do our best to avoid this.
Only visit the reading room if we have confirmed your visit.

Bookings are subject to short notice cancellations should there be any local lockdown measures implemented. We will contact you if this is the case.

COVID-19 procedures in place for visitors

Whilst Government requirements are changing from the 19th July, we want to maintain the lowest level of risk possible. To do this, in line with our parent organisation the University of Reading, we will be keeping our current safety measures in place across The MERL and reading room for the coming weeks.

We have taken every reasonable step to create a COVID-19 secure building and we rely on the co-operation of visitors to follow the measures we have put in place to protect everyone’s safety. Observe the safety measures that we have put in place.

Please delay your visit if you are experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms. The latest NHS guidelines can be found on their website.

Please practice social distancing while in The MERL and University of Reading Special Collections building.

Please wear a face covering during your visit unless you have a legitimate reason not to do so.

All researchers should wash their hands before and after visiting our reading room. Our toilet facilities will be open and are located between the building entrance and the reading room. There will also be a hand sanitiser station outside the reading room.

We will be cleaning desks and lockers at the end of each day.

What has changed in the reading room due to COVID-19?


We have reduced capacity in The MERL and University of Reading Special Collections reading room from 10 researcher spaces to 6 to provide 2 metres of social distance between researchers.

Search catalogues

There will be no computers in the reading room to search the online catalogue. The online catalogue can be accessed online.

Retrieving collections

We cannot produce collections on demand during opening hours. We can undertake retrieval of items at lunchtime. As such, we recommend that you send a full list of requests at the time of booking.

The Open Access Library is now open for researchers to browse. Please keep a note of the call/shelf numbers of books and periodicals you would like to see and you will be able to fetch these during your visit.

You can use our online catalogues to gather descriptions and references of items and collections.


The photocopier will not be available to researchers.

We are unable to fulfil requests for photocopies of material during a visit and instead can be ordered remotely through our copying service .

Digital photography using your own camera/mobile/tablet will still be available (subject to the usual terms).

Frequently Asked Questions:

What can I bring into the Reading Room?

The following items are permitted in the reading room:

  • pencils
  • note pads
  • laptops/tablets
  • mobile phones (switched to silent)
  • face mask

The following are not permitted in the reading room:

  • pens
  • food (including chewing gum and cough sweets)
  • drinks (including bottled water)
  • bags (including British Library bags, handbags and laptop bags)
  • personal scanners, tripods and stands
  • hand gel

Can I bring someone else?

Your appointment is for one person only – you must not bring anyone else with you to the building (unless they are a carer).

Will the lockers still be available?

Lockers will still be available to store items not permitted in the reading room. These will be numbered in line with desks in the reading room. We will assign you a locker and desk before your visit.

Will I still be able to handle collections?

Collections should still be handled in the ways we usually specify. Handling guides are available in the reading room and as PDF files below:

There will be a hand sanitiser station outside the reading room. Please ensure that your hands are dry before handling collections.

How can I connect to the Wi-Fi?

If you wish to connect to the Wi-Fi during your visit, please let us know when booking and we will provide you with a guest log in prior to your visit.
Eduroam is available in the reading room so if you have access to this you will not require a guest log-in.

Where can I eat lunch?

Researchers can eat lunch in the garden or other cafés on the University of Reading’s London Road Campus, including The Museum of English Rural Life’s cafe.