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Visiting the Historic Collections Centre

Balliol College’s Historic Collections and Archives are currently offering research appointments Monday-Thursday 9.30am-12.00pm and 1.30pm‑4.30pm. To book an appointment please email us on library@​balliol.​ox.​ac.​uk.

Anyone is welcome to access Balliol College’s unique Historic Collections, including the institutional archives dating from the 12th century to the present day, our unrivalled collection of medieval manuscripts and early printed books, and our modern literary and political personal papers.

We hope that this guide will help you make the most of the Collections, from planning your visit to how best to handle this unique and fragile material to help us preserve it for future generations. The sections on this page are:

Do you need to visit?

Get in touch with us to find out how we can support your research. Library and Archive staff are very happy to tell you what we have, and point you to resources such as lists, indexes, articles and digital images on our website and social media. We are able to answer straightforward enquiries, but if more complex or time-consuming research is required, we will encourage you to visit in person.

We may be able to save you making a visit if digital images of the material you require already exist. We are also able to photograph or scan small amounts of material for personal study and non-commercial research, or for larger orders and publication-quality images, facilitate access to Bodleian’s reprographics service. See our Reprographics Policy for more information.

Opening hours

We can usually offer appointments at the Historic Collections Centre Monday-Friday 9.30am-12.00pm and Monday-Friday 1.304.30pm. To help you plan your day, please note that we close the Centre over lunch.

The Historic Collections Centre may be closed during normal opening hours for classes or events, and on some public holidays or advertised periods of closure (including a fortnight at Christmas).

How to book

Booking enquiries should be made via email: library@​balliol.​ox.​ac.​uk. Please get in touch as soon as possible before your intended visit to avoid disappointment—two weeks is ideal.

Please let us know what you would like to view and be as specific as possible, giving the full references or shelf marks if you have them. Many of our manuscript catalogues are available on our website and descriptions of early printed books are available on Oxford University’s SOLO catalogue.

We ask you to order in advance for a few reasons:

  • The information you need might be available online, either on our website or Flickr account or we may already have digital images that we can send you.
  • Due to the location of some material, it might not always be possible to produce it for you on demand.
  • We can notify you about any materials which are not available for consultation.

Your booking enquiry should also include:

  • Preferred range of dates and times
  • Number of people visiting (space is limited)
  • Physical access requirements

If you are ordering large amounts of material, we’ll do our best to get it out for you but let us know which items are the highest priority so that these are ready when you arrive.

If you are unable to make your planned appointment, please let us know as soon as possible.

What to bring

  • Identification. Members of the University of Oxford or other universities should bring your University Card. Other readers should bring valid photo ID. You don’t need a Bodleian Libraries card.
  • Research notes
  • Pencils — in order to protect the collections, we only allow the use of pencils (no pens).
  • Laptop/other devices and charging cables
  • Adaptors for UK plugs if needed
  • Warm clothing—as the Historic Collections Centre is located in an old church, it can get quite chilly at all times of the year!

Getting here

Driving and parking in central Oxford are very restricted and there is no parking at the Historic Collections Centre. However, the city centre is well served by public transport and the church’s location is accessible by foot.

View St Cross Church, St Cross Road, Oxford OX1 3TP in a larger map.

Walking/cycling directions from Balliol College in Broad Street to St Cross [1/2 mile (800m)]:

  • East along Broad Street, becomes Holywell Street. Continue to T‑junction at Longwall Street.
  • Left on Longwall Street, becomes Manor Road. Cross at the pedestrian crossing and continue north beside black churchyard railings.
  • You have arrived. St Cross Church is at the junction of St Cross Road and Manor Road. Main entrance is at the west door on Manor Road.

See also our step-by-step illustrated guide from Balliol’s Broad Street site to the door of St Cross.

If you are being dropped off/picked up by car, driving requires approach from the north via Parks Road and South Parks Road or from the south via Magdalen Bridge and Longwall Street/St Cross Road.

Facilities and accessibility

Food and drink

Food and drink are not permitted in the reading room. There are no food or drink facilities or break area at the Historic Collections Centre, but there are plenty of places nearby. For Oxford University members, there is the Social Sciences Library Café (100m from St Cross), which also has a common room where you can eat your own lunch; the University Club (500m away). More restaurants and supermarkets are in Holywell Street (300m from St Cross), the High Street (500m away) and the city centre (700m away). A good resource is the Oxford Daily Info.

Internet access

Please let us know in advance if you need access to the internet during your visit, so that you can be registered on the system in time for your arrival. There is Wi-Fi in the reading room, including the Eduroam network — if you are registered on Eduroam via your home institution, further registration is not required. Please note that you may have trouble getting a mobile signal within the building.

Physical accessibility

There is wheelchair access to and within the Historic Collections Centre, including toilet facilities. Please let us know in advance if you have access support needs so that we can help you to plan your visit.

When you arrive

Ring the buzzer to the right of the main door, next to the notice board, and a member of staff will let you in.

Please leave coats and bags (including laptop bags) on or near the coat rack by the entrance. We also have lockers you are welcome to use. You can bring your research materials to the table with you, but please leave any food or drink (including water bottles, Keep Cups and cough sweets) behind.

There are outlets for plugging in your laptop under the tables. Please set your devices to silent.

Once you get settled, a member of staff will check your ID, and you’ll be asked to fill in a reader registration form and sign to confirm that you agree to abide by our reading room rules. If you have used the collections before and have already completed a form during the current calendar year, you won’t need to fill one in again. However, you will be asked to fill in a fresh one if you are visiting for the first time in a new calendar year.

Your first item will be ready for you at your table. Our policy is to produce one box/folder/volume at a time to avoid material being put back in the wrong place, but we may allow more in special circumstances. Just let the member of staff invigilating the reading room know when you are ready for your next item.

Care and handling of collections

Our collections are unique and often fragile, so need extra care to preserve them for the future. For this reason, we do not permit food, drink or pens in the reading room and ask visitors to take care when handling materials. Each item is different, with varying structure and individual needs for correct support and handling. Staff are always happy to help and advise, but the following tips are useful to keep in mind:

  • Wash and dry your hands before starting work and at any point during research if your hands become dirty. 
  • Use foam book rests, spine supports, and lead weights as demonstrated by staff. The shape of a book and the stresses within its structure change as the pages are turned, and supports may need to be moved several times as you move through the volume
  • Ask staff for assistance when moving, opening or closing large or fragile volumes. 
  • Turn pages slowly and gently, from the middle of the edge as long as the text doesn’t go right to the edge
  • Don’t lean on the book or push down on pages to make them open more than they want to naturally—this can harm the binding
  • Use the weights provided rather than your hands to hold pages down or keep documents flat, and ask for assistance if you need it
  • Please keep items on the table instead of holding up to read
  • Avoid touching any text or decoration, as this may rub or flake off. We can provide acid-free strips of paper to keep your place as you are reading, and bone folders for turning pages
  • Leave photographs and documents in their protective archival polyester enclosures. If you do need to remove them, please wear gloves (supplied) when consulting photographic formats. Natural oils and salts from hands can have a detrimental effect.
  • Please keep items in the order you find them, and ensure you replace them in the correct folder. If documents are out of order, or if something is missing or damaged, please let staff know. Please also make sure to keep your own research notes separate from the material you are consulting.
  • For more tips, including video demos, take a look at the British Library’s conservation pages.

Be aware that CCTV is in operation throughout the building, and visitors will be invigilated by a member of staff.

Taking photographs

In most cases you will be able to take your own photographs (without flash), but please ask first, as there may be copyright or preservation issues to consider. We will ask you to fill in a photo permit/copyright declaration form. Please see our Reprographics Policy for more information about copyright and digital imaging services.