Opening up the archives to more visitors

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement that England will soon move to step 4 of the government’s roadmap, we are pleased to announce the details of how we will be able to expand our visitor offer from Tuesday 20 July.

As well as increasing capacity and services in our reading rooms for researchers, we are delighted to be able to welcome our wider community of visitors back to the archives.

For visitors to our reading rooms:

  • More seats will be available in both of our reading rooms, with current capacity more than doubled.
  • Booking will no longer be compulsory for our reading rooms, but we will encourage visitors to continue to use our booking service – booking a visit will guarantee a seat in our reading rooms, and also means that visitors’ documents will be ready upon arrival.
  • Increased enquiry services to provide research help and advice to reading room visitors.
  • You may also now bring more items into the reading rooms, although as we are carrying out contactless checks on items for security reasons we advise keeping them to a minimum in order to speed up your entry.

For all visitors:

  • Walk-in visits will be welcome, without the need for advance booking.
  • Re-opening of our exhibition spaces, including our most recent exhibition ‘With Love’.
  • Family activities available throughout the summer holidays, both bookable and on demand.
  • Café and shop hours extended gradually over the coming weeks.

These changes are in addition to those already introduced on 8 July, which included extended opening hours and on-demand document ordering, meaning that visitors to our reading rooms can now order unlimited documents during their visit in addition to the 12 ordered in advance.

We recognise that it may take some time for visitors to adjust to the new arrangements made possible under step 4, and that some visitors may be taking their first steps back into the archives and other public spaces. We therefore recommend that all visitors continue to wear face coverings while visiting the archives, as a courtesy to other visitors and our staff and in line with government guidance. We will also encourage all visitors to be considerate and maintain a reasonable distance from each other while in our building.

Our transition out of lockdown

We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a huge amount of disruption to our services in the last 16 months, and we have enormous sympathy for researchers who rely on access to our collections to carry out their work.

We’ve worked hard to continue to deliver our services within the parameters of government and public health guidance, while prioritising the safety of our staff and visitors, and we’re proud of what we’ve been able to achieve. More than 7,000 researchers have visited our reading rooms since our initial re-opening in July 2020 to carry out their research, while more than 150,000 people around the world have downloaded our free digitised collections online.

We know how important it is for researchers to make up for lost time, and we’re doing all we can to accommodate this increased demand as fairly as we can. We’re also keen to open our doors for our local community – cultural institutions play an important role in helping the nation recover, and we’re keen for archives to play a part in this.

The last year has offered us an opportunity to try new approaches in delivering our public services, to meet the changing needs of visitors and researchers. While some of the changes we’ve introduced have been out of necessity, it’s possible that some may stay in place as we work through our own recovery period.

We continue to welcome feedback on all of our services via our website.