Rip Roaring Reading Room News: Full opening from Monday 28 September 2015

Our Reading Room

Our Reading Room

Great news everyone! We have extended our Reading Room opening hours. Up until now, although you have been able to visit our wonderful Reading Room Monday-Friday, 9-5, we have operated a restricted service on a Monday. This meant that, on a Monday, we opened later (10am) and we were unable to retrieve material from our store.

But we are delighted to say that from (and including) Monday 28 September – our Reading Room will be ready for your visit and fully accessible, open and with staff making trips to the store to retrieve material throughout the day:

Every Monday to Friday – 9am to 5pm!

Our last retrieval from the store is at 4.15pm and we collect all closed access material in at 4.45pm.

(Allowing for a brief hiatus in retrievals from the store while our Reading Room staff take a hard earned lunch break between 1-2pm)

Our Reading Room

Our Reading Room

So why not pay us a visit?  You can find more information on using our Reading Room here.  If you have any queries or would like to order up material in advance, you can contact us at

Reader notice: Disruption to online ADLIB catalogue

We have been experiencing some difficulties with our ADLIB online catalogue in recent weeks – please accept our apologies for this. This affects both Museum of English Rural Life and Special Collections catalogues.

We are working to resolve the problems as soon as we can, but in the meantime, you may find it easier to use our alternative search interface, Enterprise ( for MERL or for Special Collections).

To glove or not to glove


What happens when you put on gloves? Can you handle clasps, ties or other delicate items? Can you turn a page? Are you clumsier? Can you feel things through your gloves?

When people picture librarians and archivists with fragile material, they often assume that cotton white gloves come with the territory. Despite what you may see on some television programmes, many libraries and archives recommend not using gloves on a regular basis. Here at Reading Special Collections, we only use gloves for very specific types of material, like glass negatives, that would be damaged by fingers – and usually we recommend latex or nitrile gloves rather than white cotton ones.

Why don’t we use white cotton gloves?

  • Gloves reduce your dexterity. In other words, they can make you clumsier. Gloves, particularly white cotton ones, aren’t very fitted. You can’t grip things as well or as carefully with them on as you can with bare fingertips, which means it’s much easier to tear a page  accidentally when you’re wearing gloves.
  • Gloves get dirty. White cotton gloves aren’t sterile, and their absorbent fabric surface picks up lots of dirt and debris. As our visitors know, old manuscripts and books can get your hands filthy! When all this dirt ends up on gloves, it can transfer to other books and manuscripts and cause damage.
  • Gloves stop you from learning about an item. Many scholars – and indeed our staff – need to know about an item’s physical qualities. The feel of the paper can tell you more about its history and production, for example. This type of engagement with the physical object becomes impossible when you’re wearing cotton gloves.

So what do we recommend instead? Handle our manuscripts and rare books with clean, dry hands. We might ask you to use gloves for certain items in our collections that react more strongly to dirt or human oils – some glass negatives, art or other delicate objects, for example. But on the whole, if you are clean and careful in your handling, your skin won’t cause any significant damage. This short video from the British Library shows how NOT to handle a manuscript with gloves.

Interested in learning more? ‘Misperceptions about White Gloves’ is a great starting point from the IFLA International Preservation News journal. You can also take a look at the National Archives and British Library policies on gloves use.

Research Tip: Our A-Z lists


One of the quickest ways to find out about our collections – and whether we have a particular collection – is to use our A to Z index.  Although the list is in progress, it includes nearly 200 archive, rare book and other special collections held by the University. Each collection has its own page with a description of scope and content as well as a link to catalogue details.

It is worth noting that we  have recently launched a similar A-Z index of MERL’s archive collections, which has been undertaken as part of the Reading Connections project.

Using Special Collections for teaching and research

Using Special Collections material from our archive and rare book collections for teaching as part of a seminar or lecture can be a very rewarding experience for lecturers and students alike.

The excellent teaching facilities at Special Collections Services include two meeting rooms, which can be used by teaching groups who need to work with the collections, including seminars and conferences. The rooms are available for use by both University academic staff and students, and external groups and societies. For more information, see our Teaching and Research Facilities web page.

The Westminster Conference Room at the Special Collections Service

The Westminster Conference Room at the Special Collections Service

Also on this page, read some case studies from University of Reading academics who have incorporated Special Collections material into their teaching, and discover more about the benefits to academic staff and students in using Special Collections material in teaching and learning.