SOAS University of London

SOAS Library

Special Collections Frequently Asked Questions

  • What type of material is held in Special Collections?

    Special Collections holds the Library's collection of archives, manuscripts, rare books, and SOAS PhD theses.

  • What are archives?

    Archives are collections of historical primary source material. They normally comprise the original records of an organisation or papers of an individual, which were created or collected in the course of that organisations' work or individuals' life. Archive collections can include a range of different types of records, such as correspondence, minutes, diaries, photographs or multimedia material. 

  • What archive collections do you hold?

    We have significant holdings of missionary society archives, NGO and pressure group archives, business archives, and papers of individuals including academics, diplomats, writers and other significant figures whose life or work is important to the study of Africa, Asia or the Middle East.

  • What are manuscripts?

    Manuscripts are also unpublished primary sources, but tend to be single items created by an individual and are often handwritten

  • What regions do your collections cover?

    Our archives and manuscripts collections cover Africa, Asia and the Middle East, but we also hold material relating to the Americas and the Caribbean, Oceania and Australasia and Europe.

  • Are your collections in English?

    Our archive collections are primarily in English. However, we have manuscripts in over 130 languages with significant holdings in Arabic, Persian, Swahili and South-East Asian languages.

  • How can I find out specifically what collections you hold?

    An overview of our holdings are available on Our Collections web pages. We also have an expanding number of regional and subject guides to our collections.

    For detailed listings of archive collections and manuscripts you can use our online SOAS Archive Catalogue, but you may also need to look at the hard-copy guides and our manuscript card index both available in the Reading Room. 

    For detailed listing of the library's collections of rare books and SOAS PhD thesis, please use the SOAS Library catalogue

  • Can anyone view this material?

    We aim to make our holdings available to as many people as possible. However, there are certain conditions of access depending on whether you are an internal or external user. For details see our Access to Collections page or you can contact us directly.

  • Where can I view your collections?

    Archives, manuscripts, rare books and theses collections are consulted in the Special Collections Reading Room on level F of SOAS Library.

    We are located in the main SOAS building, opposite the Brunei Gallery on Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG.

    Transport details and a map of the local area are available on our Where To Find Us page.

  • What are your opening hours?

    The opening hours of the Special Collections Reading Room are:

    • Monday: 9am-5pm
    • Tuesday: 9am-5pm
    • Wednesday: closed
    • Thursday: 9am-5pm
    • Friday: 9am-5pm
    • Saturday/Sunday: closed

    Please note: the Special Collections Reading Room is currently closed every Wednesday.

  • Why is this material not available on the open shelves?

    All of the material we hold is unique or rare so it must be kept in a secure and environmentally controlled area providing the best conditions for long term preservation.

  • How can I order material to view?

    You can either complete a paper requisition slip on the day (available in the Special Collections Reading Room), order online or you can email us your request in advance (please provide one working day's notice for email requests). 

    Please include full reference details about the item you want when completing your request. You can find these by using our catalogues and guides. Staff in the Reading Room will be happy to help you complete these requisition slips.

    Collections of material are made four times a day, at the following times:

    • 10.00am
    • 11.30am
    • 2.00pm
    • 4.00pm 

    You can order up to three items per collection. Your order will be kept on reserve for you for up to a week.

  • What am I allowed to bring into the Reading Room?

    To protect our unique and rare collections there are special rules and regulations for our Reading Room. 

    • Pencils and laptops can be used for making notes (pens are not allowed). 
    • Cameras, with flash turned off, can be used for making copies of material (as long as you comply with copyright regulations). 
    • No food or drink (including water) is allowed in the Reading Room. 
    • No bags are allowed in the Reading Room (we provide lockers for use during your visit). 
  • How can I obtain copies of material from your collections?

    Unfortunately, we are currently unable to offer a photocopying, photography or scanning service for offsite users.

    However, if you are visiting us in person you are welcome to bring a camera with you and take your own copies as long as this complies with copyright law. Please consult with the Reading Room supervisor before taking any photographs.

    We also hold some material on microfiche which can be printed out in the main library subject to the same copyright restrictions. Please see our Making Copies page for further details

  • Are any of your collections available in digital form online?

    Unfortunately very few of our archives and manuscripts collections have been digitised although we are hoping to increase the amount available online in digital format.

    A small selection of digitised images is available on the SOAS Digital Library. A selection of our missionary photographs are available on the International Mission Photography Archive.

    A growing number of our PhD Theses are available digitally. You can discover which ones are available online by searching the SOAS Library Catalogue or Proquest Theses and Dissertations.

  • What access to the Internet is available in the Special Collections Reading Room?

    Visitors to the Special Collections Reading Room should be aware that the OPACs only have access to SOAS webpages. Visitors wishing to have access to external webpages are advised to please bring your own device. For information on guest Wifi please visit IT webpages