Please email with any Reading Room enquiries.

This in-box is monitored during our opening hours, Tuesday – Friday 9:30-4:30.

The Reading Room

The Museum of English Rural Life Library, Archive and Special Collections can be examined in the Reading Room.

Visiting the MERL Open Access Library does not require pre-booking; however, if you require desk space for extended research, booking is advisable.

To avoid disappointment, please book archive and Special Collections visits a week in advance – collections from the off-site store are made once a week.

All researchers are required to register prior to their first visit – please book space for each researcher in your party.  

Priority is given to visitors accessing the collections – if you only require quiet study space, please ask on the day about availability.

Which collection are you looking for?

The A-Z provides an extensive list of all the collections held at MERL and may assist you in narrowing down your search.

Opening times

Tuesday to Friday, 9.30am-4.30pm by appointment.

We remain open over lunchtime, however, we cannot retrieve extra material from the stores between 12pm and 2pm.

We close promptly at the end of each session – please allow time to pack up.


All visitors accessing material from the collections need to register pre-first visit and produce photo ID on arrival (pre-existing researchers may be required to re-register).

Research desk space is limited – please book your visit to the Reading Room a minimum of a week in advance.

To reserve a place, email, providing:

    • The preferred date and time you would like to visit – please wait for confirmation before making plans to travel
    • Specific material requests, using the reference codes, as detailed on the entry in our on-line catalogue, Enterprise

Please note, Enterprise provides details of holdings across all of the University of Reading libraries and campuses – use the drop-down list (next to the Home icon) to limit your search.

Material identified as within the MERL library or Special Collections can be accessed in the Reading Room and cannot be transferred through the inter-library loan system.

We will assess your requests and advise you on availability – please only visit the Reading Room if we have confirmed your visit.

We require the specific reference number for your material. In this example, TR FOW refers to only one part in ten of the Fowler collection – thousands of records; to request an appropriate volume of material, provide the full reference number, and the “Level of description” should read ‘file’.

Items listed in the catalogue as Open Access (listed under the Status or Location heading) do not need to be pre-ordered; however, pre-booking of desk space is advisable. Reference codes provided on the on-line library catalogue system will identify the location and we can provide an Open Access map if you require guidance.

Why do I have to pre-order material?

Please provide specific reference codes of the material you wish to examine:

  • MERL Library and Special Collections are housed in multiple store rooms, on 3.5km of roller racking, and in 2 buildings, one of which is off-site
  • Some collections are stored in hundreds of boxes, containing thousands of documents
  • Please provide your reference codes a minimum of a week before your booking – we collect off-site material only once a week

An image showing numerous rows of roller racking disappearing into the distance. A blue ladder at the far end is dwarfed by the height of the racks.
The highest roller racking shelves of our off-site store are accessed via archive platform ladders or by using specialist equipment.

A tall metal bookshelf, with 8 bays, each with 10 shelves full of books, towers towards an industrial roof.
Bookshelves at our off-site store hold approximately 3000 books per row. We hold over 100,000 books across our various stores.

An image showing roller racking on either side housing one of the Special Collections, stored on 108 shelves, in 864 boxes.
One of the Special Collections stored on site, on two of approximately 100 rows of roller racking. Each box can contain hundreds of documents.

Copying Services

We do not have a photocopier available for researcher use.

Photocopies or PDF scans of material can be ordered through our copying service. Please provide the reference codes of the specific material of interest. This service can take up to 20 working days but is often completed much faster.

Digital photography using your own equipment is permitted subject to conditions – please request permission before taking photographs.

Photographs or scanned images may not be reproduced or published in any format without prior agreement, including on-line/social media.

Terms & conditions and prices for scanning/self-photography can be found on our copying services page.  

Frequently Asked Questions:

What can I bring into the Reading Room?

Where can I leave my belongings?

On arrival, we will inform you of your assigned numbered locker and desk.

Do I need to wear gloves when handling collections?

Unless directed otherwise, clean, dry hands are sufficient for handling collections.

If the collection you are examining requires special handling, we will advise you and supply any materials required.

Handling guides are available in the Reading Room and as PDF files below:

Is there Wi-Fi?

Eduroam is available in the Reading Room. Short term access to The Cloud is available to visitors without access to Eduroam.

Where can I eat lunch?

The MERL Cafe is located near the Museum entrance, we have outside seating if the weather allows – feel free to bring your own lunch. There are additional cafés on the University of Reading London Road Campus, just a few steps away.  

COVID-19 procedures

    • Please delay your visit if you have tested positive for COVID-19
    • The wearing of a face covering during your visit is optional