The reading room provides access to The MERL’s library, archives and photographic collections as well as the University of Reading’s Special Collections.

The following information will help you to plan your visit.

Accessing the collections

The collections are accessible to all researchers on completion of a registration form. Please bring some form of identification on your first visit. We accept:

  • driving licenses
  • student/staff ID cards
  • bank cards
  • passports

GDPR comes into effect on 25 May 2018. The Museum of English Rural Life is collecting archives in the public interest. We also process data from researchers and visitors for administrative and evidential purposes. In order to gain appropriate consent, we will be asking existing reading room users to re-register with us. More information can be found here.

In order to avoid disappointment, we suggest that you contact us in advance of your visit indicating the items you wish to consult. This is because some items are stored offsite and cannot be retrieved immediately. The reading room service can be busy at times so pre-ordering items can ensure that they are ready for you, enabling you to make the most of your visit. If you are ordering material for the following day, requests need to be submitted by 2pm the previous working day at the latest.

Let us know the date and time you would like to visit and we can reserve you a space in the reading room. We have half day slots – 9am-1pm, 1-5pm (5-9pm for late night opening) – so let us know which of these you will require for your visit(s).

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

Staff can retrieve items stored onsite on demand during opening hours, except between 1-2pm and after 4.15pm when we stop retrievals (8.15pm during late opening). We collect all items in at 4.45pm (8.45pm during late opening).

Anything marked ‘open access’ on our catalogue can be retrieved by researchers in our open access library and do not need pre-ordering. Keep a note of the call numbers for these items as this will help you to locate them on the shelves.

Four people sit at the Reading Room table, which is long and seats 20 people. An elderly man in a white shirt works on his laptop, two women have their heads bent over their work and one man on the other side in a stripey top examines an archive. A bookcase is at the end of the table.


The reading room is in the same building as The Museum of English Rural Life. There is a dedicated bike store next to the entrance to the Museum, and a limited amount of free parking is available in front of the building (please collect a free parking permit from the reception desk). We have 14 power points along the centre of the desk for laptops. We can provide researchers with access to the University’s wi-fi system. We have a separate locker room with 16 free lockers for bags and coats, and light refreshments can be purchased in the Museum cafe.

More information about accessibility can be found here.

The reading room entrance is off the Staircase Hall in our Grade II-listed building. Use the arrows on our Google Streetview tour above to navigate around.


These guidelines are in place to reduce risk to the collections, some of which are very old and fragile, and to preserve them for future generations. By completing a registration form, you agree to follow these rules and abide by the instructions of reading room staff.

The following are permitted in the reading room:

  • pencils
  • note pads
  • laptops/tablets
  • mobile phones (switched to silence)

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

Handling the collections

It is important to handle collection items with care and our reading room staff will advise on best handling practices. Handling guides are available in the reading room and as PDF files below:

Copying services

For more information on copying services, including digital photography in the reading room, please visit this page: Copying Services.

Opening hours

Please refer to our page on Opening Times.

On the last Thursday of every month the reading room will remain open until 9pm, except on very rare occasions. Check our What’s On to be certain.