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Rules of the reading room

Remember that archives are unpublished. They are unique and irreplaceable and require careful handling. They can be fragile. Reading some documents can also require great concentration, depending on the handwriting.

For these reasons, all archive reading rooms have sets of rules relating to how one should consult the documents. This may seem boring and unfriendly but it is simply to ensure there is no risk of damaging documents or disturbing other readers.

Archivists aim to do two things:

  • Provide access to archival documents
  • Preserve archival documents for future readers

Balancing these two aims can be difficult so we have to ask readers to help by following rules, common to most repositories.

The rules for King’s College Archive Centre are as follows:


Please observe the following rules when consulting material.

  1. If you have a coat, please give it to the Archivists for storage in the office.  Umbrellas should be left in the hallway outside the Reading Room.  Bags should be stowed under the window in the Reading Room.
  2. Sign the Visitors Book on arrival each day.
  3. Use a pencil only for manual note-taking.
  4. The use of computers is allowed if the sound is turned off.  Please ask the Archivist if you need an international plug adapter; we have fire regulation-compliant units.
  5. Fill in Document Request Slips to order material from the Store. Press firmly so that the reference number is visible on each sheet of the request slip. You may ask for up to five files, bundles or volumes at once, but must consult them one at a time.
  6. Items will be left on the windowsill for you to take as you are ready. Take each file to your desk to look through it. Lay documents flat on the table and use foam book-rests for bound volumes.
  7. Handle manuscript material with care.  Do not mark or lean on the papers and books.  Tracing of maps or other documents is not allowed.  Please do not lick your fingers when looking through files. Take care to replace documents into the correct files, in the correct order. Do not remove items for photocopying; please request acid-free paper slips from the archivists for marking the pages to be copied.
  8. Do not eat, drink, chew gum or smoke anywhere in the library building.   Bottles of water with screw-on caps are allowed in the library building outside the Reading Room.
  9. Photography is not allowed.


Some of these rules are almost universal, being used in all reading rooms, for example the use of pencils instead of ink and the ban on food and drink. These rules are intended to prevent accidental damage to documents.

You might have expected to see a rule that white gloves must be worn. White gloves are seen more often on television than in reading rooms. They are not required at King’s College.

We do ask people to handle documents very carefully though and to lay documents flat on the table or on a book rest, to prevent excessive handling and stress on the paper.

Many archives allow readers to take photographs. Why doesn’t King’s College Archive Centre?

  • The sound of photographs being taken can disturb other readers.
  • Not all of the documents we hold are actually owned by us.
  • Most of our readers consult the personal papers. Many of the documents in these collections are still in copyright.

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