A rich, global resource encompassing ancient, medieval, modern and contemporary manuscript and archive material. The collections include historical, literary, political, scientific and religious papers as well as maps, charters, seals, rolls and papyrii.

Collection guides

  • Leonardo da Vinci's diagrams, from the ‘Codex Arundel’

    Arundel manuscripts

    Medieval and early modern manuscripts collected by Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl of Arundel
  • Detail of a  diagram of the eye

    Sloane manuscripts

    Manuscripts and artefacts gathered by the physician Sir Hans Sloane
  • The Garden of Pleasure, in Roman de la Rose

    Harley manuscripts

    More than 7,000 manuscripts, 14,000 charters and 500 rolls purchased by Robert Harley
  • Opening of Beowulf

    Cotton manuscripts

    Some of the greatest treasures from British literature and history
  • Detail of miniature of a scene from Virgil’s Eclogues

    King's manuscripts

    A distinguished collection of medieval and post-medieval manuscripts and topographical material.
  • The Shaftesbury Psalter

    Lansdowne manuscripts

    A collection of modern political papers and material relating to topography and heraldry
Reading Room  Paul Grundy

Manuscripts Reading Room

The Manuscripts Reading Room is the enquiry point for the Library's western language manuscript collections (i.e. written by hand, not printed). The collection includes literary, historical manuscripts and private papers.

  • Find information on the shelves
  • Access online databases and electronic journals
  • Order collection items to the Reading Room via our catalogues

You’ll need a Reader Pass

Mon: 10.00 – 17.00
Tue – Sat: 09.30 – 17.00
Sun & English Public Holidays: closed

Opening hours for all Reading Rooms

For enquiries, please contact the Reference Service

Blog posts

The medieval origins of Mothering Sunday

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Mothering Sunday falls every year on the 4th Sunday in Lent, also called Mid-Lent Sunday or Refreshment Sunday, referring to its sense of respite halfway through this season of fasting and penitence. The modern recognition of this day came about...

Digitising our manuscripts from Anglo-Saxon England

Friday, March 24, 2017

Strong is he who tastes the power of books; he who has possession of them is always the wiser. Bald bið se ðe onbyregeð boca cræftes; symle bið ðe wisra ðe hira geweald hafað. — Solomon and Saturn II, lines...

Omne Bonum (All Good Things)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

‘Virtually all good things [are] contained herein.’ That's how the author of the text known as Omne Bonum described his work. Omne Bonum is a huge encyclopedia, whose compiler (and scribe), James le Palmer, sought to compile all the knowledge...

A Tale as Old as Time

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Magic is in the air this weekend, as audiences worldwide have been going to see Disney’s live action remake of its classic animated tale, Beauty and the Beast. In Disney’s version of this classic tale, an enchantress places a curse...

More blog posts


illuminated manuscript

The British Library houses one of the world's greatest collections of illuminated manuscripts, and Janet Backhouse has drawn on this rich resource to make a selection of outstanding examples that span over 800 years of medieval book production.


A History of the Book in 100 Books (hardback)

From inscriptions on tombs to the first writings on papyrus; from scrolls to the first bound codex books in Roman times.


Codex Sinaiticus book cover

Codex Sinaiticus: New Perspectives on the Ancient Biblical Manuscript

Codex Sinaiticus is one of the most important books in the world.