Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do I need to make an appointment in advance of my visit?

If you wish to book an appointment, please contact us at least three days in advance with details of what you wish to see. This is so that we are able to retrieve it in advance of your arrival so that you can start working straight away. Items may be in conservation or in exhibition and this can be communicated prior to your visit. 

Please phone us on 0161-275 3764, or email

What do I need to show to register as a reader?

You need to bring two forms of identification, one with your photograph and one containing proof of your address. For example, you could bring a passport, driver's licence, domestic utility bill, staff card, or a bank card containing your photograph. 

I have never used Special Collections before. What help can you offer me?

We realise that using a special collections library for the first time can be a pretty daunting experience - "so many rules"... "I feel like I'm being watched all the time"... "everyone else seems to know exactly what they're doing, but I'm not sure". We want your experience to be enjoyable and productive, and we're here to help.

We can offer what we call First Visit Support, if you want it: a member of staff will guide you through the process of registration, reading room regulations, finding and ordering material, and the basics of handling.

What should I bring with me on my visit?

You should bring pencils and paper (we don't allow pens in the reading room).

We don't allow bags in the Elsevier Reading Room, for security reasons, and mobile phones must be switched off to avoid disturbance to other readers.

The reading room is air-conditioned, so you might want to wear warm clothing.

We encourage you to bring a camera, laptop or tablet to take your own photographs.

Are the Special Collections Reading Rooms accessible to disabled visitors?

Yes, the Special Collections Reading Rooms and the and the public areas of the John Rylands Research Institute and Library and at the Main Library are fully accessible to wheelchair users. We also welcome assistance dogs.

Please contact us if you have any concerns.

How do I find out what materials you hold?

The best starting point is the Guide to Special Collections, it is also available in hard-copy. This provides a brief overview of all our major collections.

The vast majority of our printed books are available on our online catalogue. Select 'Special Collections' as the collection in order to restrict your search to Special Collections material.

Many of our archives are available online via ELGAR (Electronic Gateway to Archives at the Rylands).

Please contact us if you have any queries - our staff are very knowledgeable about the collections and are happy to help.

How do I order material?

Once you have identified the items you would like to consult, you will need to fill in a request for each item, providing details of the item, and your own name and address.

You can pre-order material by telephone or email. Items needed to be ordered at least three days in advance so that we can have the material ready for your visit or communicate any problems to you.

Can I browse the shelves?

No, all Special Collections material is held in closed-access storage. Even the books you can see in the Historic Reading Room are locked behind glass doors.

You need to search for material via the online catalogues or finding aids in the Elsevier Reading Room and request it in advance.

Can I borrow items from Special Collections?

No. All Special Collections material is reference-only. Material can be special for a variety of reasons: its age, rarity, fragility, provenance, association, or financial value. This means we cannot let it out of our hands.

Can I look at very special items such as early printed books or medieval manuscripts?

That depends. If you can demonstrate a genuine research need to use material, we will not refuse a request, provided that there are no conservation issues which prevent the material being used.

Advance notice is important, to ensure that there is a senior member of staff on hand to authorise the request. However, we are very unlikely to agree to a request to view material just for curiosity's sake.

We always have a selection of special items on display in our exhibitions.

Can I consult material in the Historic Reading Room?

For security reasons we require anyone wishing to use Special Collections at the John Rylands Research Institute and Library to study them in the Special Collections Reading Room. You are welcome to use the Historic Reading Room for your own private study.

Can I consult Special Collections at other Library sites?

It isn't possible to transfer Special Collections material to other Library sites. Material housed at the John Rylands Research Institute and Library must be consulted on site, in the Special Collections Reading Room.

Special Collections at the Main Library are consulted in the University Archives and Records Centre on Blue 4.

Can I use my laptop in the Reading Room?

Yes, every reading desk has a 3-pin power socket. We can lend you an adaptor if you have a European or North American 2-pin plug on your laptop. We can't take any responsibility for loss or damage caused by power surges, sudden loss of power, etc.

Every reading desk also has a network point. However, University regulations mean that only registered staff and students of The University of Manchester can access the network.

Do you have any special study aids?

Yes, we can supply you with a magnifying glass, and we also have a fibre-optic light sheet (useful for viewing watermarks), and a microscope. Please ask the staff in the Elsevier Reading Room if you require any study aids.

Can I take my own photographs in the Reading Rooms?

Yes, self-service photography is permitted in the Special Collections Reading Rooms. If you have already registered as a reader, you may still need to fill in a photography form. Please check with a member of staff at the start of your visit. 

Self-service photos are for research purposes only. If you would like to request high-resolution images for publication (in print or online), please contact the Imaging team:

You must observe the rules for self-service photography. Flash photography, tripods, mini-pods and scanners are not permitted, and cameras must be set to silent mode.

Certain categories of material cannot be copied, such as tightly bound books. All self-service photography is at the discretion of Library staff.

Many items within the Library are covered by Copyright Law, including all unpublished manuscripts. Copying of copyright works is an infringement of copyright except under certain limited conditions. These include:

  • Copies of more than an insubstantial part of a copyright work may be made solely for research, private study, criticism, review or (except photographs) current news reporting.
  • Only one such copy may be made.
  • Further copies may not be made from such a copy for the use of anyone else.

The Library gives no authority for the making of any copies of copyright works. All responsibility for any infringement of copyright is borne by the person making the copy and the person (if different) for whom the copy is being made.

It is your responsibility to determine whether you can legally copy an item.

Staff cannot assist with the making of copies.

How do I order images of items from Special Collections?

We provide a comprehensive imaging service, ranging from photocopies through to publication-quality TIFF images. For more information visit our imaging services pages

Can items from Special Collections be viewed online?

We have begun a digitization programme, and you can view a selection of images from our image collections. Currently over 5000 images are available and we are adding to them all the time.

We have also started to digitize complete books and manuscripts. However, digitization is expensive and we will never be able to digitize everything. Please contact us for more information.

The Manchester Digital Collections is a new resource for exploring high-quality images of cultural collections and research projects at The University of Manchester.

Are there any restrictions on access to modern archives?

Yes. The UK’s Data Protection Act 2018 (which incorporates the General Data Protection Regulation) protects the rights of living individuals and requires that personal data shall be processed fairly and lawfully.

Any archive material less than 100 years old is potentially covered by the DPA, and we may need to close this material to researchers.

It is therefore essential that you request such material well in advance of your visit, so that an archivist can check it and decide whether it is safe to issue. We cannot accept requests for same-day access to post-1920 archives.

For further information on the Data Protection Act see the University pages on external resources.

A few collections have additional access restrictions imposed by depositors.