Medieval manuscripts blog

Bringing our medieval manuscripts to life

19 March 2015

Photography in the Manuscripts Reading Room


Royal MS 6 E VI, f 329r. Detail of an historiated initial 'C'(olor) of an artist mixing colours. England, S. E. (London), c. 1360-c. 1375



Many of our readers will have seen the announcement that, from Monday March 16th, self-service photography will be permitted in the Manuscripts Reading Room, as well as in other British Library Reading Rooms. You can find details of this new policy in this blog post from Living Knowledge, the British Library's corporate blog. Since this announcement was made, we have received a number of enquiries about how this process will work in practice, and this blog post sets out answers to some of the most common questions we have received. While some of what is said below will apply to other collections, this has been written specifically with readers of ancient, medieval, and early modern manuscripts in mind. In particular, given that there are unlikely to be any copyright issues or data protection issues with pre-1600 material, there is no discussion of those topics here, but readers seeking to photograph more recent material should familiarise themselves with the regulations governing copyright and data protection.

We would ask that all readers wishing to take photographs of manuscripts consult the excellent blog post by our colleagues in Collection Care, which outlines how best to take photographs safely and without endangering collection items. In particular, readers are asked to hold their camera or phone with both hands and not to attempt to hold down pages with their hands. Snakes and other weights are readily available in the Reading Room and should be used instead.

Not all manuscripts can be photographed. Any item for which a letter of introduction is required, or for which special permission is needed before the item can be issued, cannot be photographed in the Reading Room. These items will be issued along with a RED “No Photography” slip. In addition, certain groups of material, including the papyri, ostraka, and seals, cannot be photographed at present. If you have ordered an item that cannot be photographed, it will be issued to you along with a YELLOW “No Photography” slip. Items that can be photographed will be issued with a GREEN slip. We continue to work to identify material that is not presently fit for photography, and there may be some errors along the way. If you believe that you have received a “No Photography” slip in error, or, conversely, that the item should not be photographed, but was not issued with a slip, please record this by contacting the Manuscripts and Maps Reference Team.

In addition, to avoid excessive handling of collection items, we would ask that readers check to see whether items have already been digitised in full on Digitised Manuscripts, or in part on the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, as the digital coverage may make self-service photography unnecessary.

What can I do with the images I take? Can I share them on Twitter?

Photographs are intended for personal research use only and not for commercial use. If you would like to include an image in a journal article, thesis, or book, you will need to make use of the images made available under a Creative Commons Licence on the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, or speak to our colleagues in Imaging Services. However, we realise that there is a great benefit in sharing images widely on Twitter and on other social media sites, and while this could be considered a form of publication, we have no objection to self-service photographs being shared in this way, as long as details of the manuscript’s shelfmark are included and if possible a link is given back to the British Library website or catalogue entry.

I want to take photographs of a select manuscript which has not been digitised.

At present, these are out of scope for reader photography, because the majority of select and restricted material is fragile or otherwise vulnerable. As always you can order images of this from Imaging Services. Many of these manuscripts have already been digitised in full on Digitised Manuscripts, or in part on the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts,

Why are the papyri/ostraka/seals out of scope?

These items have been excluded on the grounds that if a camera or phone were dropped on them, it could break or otherwise damage the item.

You may have additional questions that are not covered here, and we would advise readers that these guidelines will continue to be refined and developed in response to feedback. Please contact the Manuscripts and Maps reference team as a first port of call, and if necessary, your question will be forwarded to a curator for answer.


Yates Thompson MS 4, f 14v. Historiated initial 'I'(n) with Luke painting the Virgin, at the beginning of his Gospel. Netherlands, S. (Bruges), c. 1460.




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