What can I expect when I visit?

We’re doing all we can to help everyone feel safe when they’re on site, but we need your help too. We ask that all visitors behave responsibly and respect the measures that we have put in place:

  • New booking system to help us manage visitor numbers – all visits will have to be pre-booked without exception, and all documents ordered in advance
  • New document delivery processes to protect visitors and staff, and to ensure that documents are quarantined appropriately
  • One-way systems and capacity controls in frequently used areas
  • Floor markers and temporary signage to help with social distancing
  • Rigorous cleaning during and at the end of each day
  • Easier access to sinks for hand washing and provision of hand sanitiser

This short video shows what you can expect when you visit.

We will also ask everyone booking a visit to commit to a new coronavirus visitor charter, aimed at encouraging all visitors to do their bit to help us ensure everyone’s safety.

We confirm we have complied with the government’s guidance on managing the risk of COVID-19.

Face coverings and gloves

Due to a change in the law, all visitors will be required to wear face coverings during their visit from Saturday 8 August. If you are travelling to us on public transport you must also wear a face covering.

If you have a legitimate reason not to wear a face covering, please indicate this on the form when you book your visit – this will help our staff prepare for your arrival and ensure that your visit is not delayed.

We will not allow gloves to be worn in our reading rooms, unless you are handling photographs, in line with long-standing guidance relating to the preservation of our collection. All visitors will be asked to wash their hands thoroughly before and after their visit to the reading rooms.

Some of our staff (for example, our document services staff and security officers) are likely to be wearing face shields and other protective equipment.

Looking after our documents

All documents will have to be ordered in advance, at the point of pre-booking a reading room visit. Documents will be delivered to you on a trolley (rather than in our normal document lockers), so that we can minimise human interaction before it reaches you. When you have finished looking at your documents, we will quarantine them for a period of time before returning them to our repository.

If another visitor has already seen a document that you have requested within a certain amount of time before your visit, we will be unable to provide you with access to the document – for this reason, we are suggesting that visitors suggest a number of alternative documents that can be supplied if available.


A limited number of our ground floor lockers will be available for visitors to use, to ensure sufficient distancing in the locker area. These lockers will be thoroughly cleaned at the end of each day. We’ll also be carefully managing how staff and visitors move in and out of this area, so please try to minimise your return visits to your locker as much as possible.

Taking a break

You will be allowed to leave the building to get refreshments, although this will obviously reduce your research time. We’d encourage visitors to bring their own refreshments, where possible.

Although we are not serving any food or drink, we have made a number of tables and chairs available for visitors to use in our restaurant, which has been rearranged to allow sufficient distance from other visitors.

Several of our toilets and washrooms will be open, including our accessible toilets, but we have limited the availability to make it easier for us to keep them clean to a high standard.

Getting help with your research

We will of course do all we can to help you with practical advice during your visit, but we will not be able to offer any research advice in person in the reading rooms. However, our email and Live Chat enquiry services will remain available on our website, and we would recommend that you use them to plan your research before you visit. The computers in the reading rooms will not be available, but our free Wifi will remain available for you to use.

Other services

We are currently unable to open our other on site facilities, including our reference library, our exhibition spaces, our shop, and our restaurant and cafés. We will also be unable to provide many of our other usual reading room services, including access to microfilm and microfiche, research advice, record copying and access to our computers.