Teaching and research facilities

The Westminster Conference Room at the Special Collections ServiceThe Special Collections of the University of Reading play a primary role in teaching and learning within the University and beyond. We help to deliver hands-on group sessions with material from our unique collections of archives, manuscripts, rare books and objects.

We also deliver archivist and librarian led training sessions focused on using the collections and designed to help students and staff understand and locate primary resources for their own teaching and research needs.

Group sessions

We encourage members of teaching staff to get in touch to organize sessions using material from the collections can be made available to support group teaching. Special Collections Services staff have expert knowledge of the collections, and can assist in teaching sessions by providing an introduction to special collections services and the collections as well as guidance on finding and requesting material for study. Our staff often teach class sessions related to archival research, history of the book and more.

Using our collections:

  • Helps develop a clear understanding of the role of original material in research
  • Increases students' knowledge in locating primary resources in the University collections and elsewhere
  • Gives students unique insight into their subject and the possibility of original research opportunities, and brings teaching and learning to life for both academics and students

Special Collections staff are also happy to meet with teaching staff to help develop assignments based on our collections.

Locating material

Our collections are broad and varied and can support a wide variety of teaching. Special Collections staff are happy to provide session leaders assistance in choosing or locating material. Teaching staff are advised to use our A-Z list and catalogue as a first port of call.

Please ensure material requests are submitted at least three days before the sessions.


Special Collections Services has three meeting rooms, which can be used by teaching groups who need to work with the collections, including seminars and conferences. The rooms are available for use by both University academic staff and students, and external groups and societies. These rooms must be booked in advance, preferably early in the term.

  • The Westminster Conference Room has a capacity of between 20 (boardroom style) to 50 people (theatre style).
  • The Seminar Room has a capacity of between 12 (boardroom style) to 20 people (theatre style).
  • The Visitor Room has a capacity of between 8 (boardroom style) to 16 people (theatre style).

Booking teaching sessions

To book a teaching session, please fill out the booking form. Please include details of the subject and module code, proposed dates, the number of students expected, the collection material required, and the level of input desired from Special Collections staff.

We prefer to have two weeks' notice for any teaching sessions; however we will do our best to work with your schedule and course needs.

You are always welcome to contact us for an informal chat about potential teaching sessions.

Booking collection material for events

Special Collections can play a key role as part of events, whether it be as a pop-up exhibition at an evening event or as part of a conference. Please fill out this booking form to book a space and materials for events.

Preparing for a visit

  • The guidelines that apply to using the Special Collections Reading Room also apply to our teaching spaces. Please distribute these guidelines to your students before class.
  • If you are using items from the collections, a member of staff will be present to greet your class and supervise.
  • If it is the first time a group has visited Special Collections then a member of staff will provide a brief handling induction at the beginning of the session.
  • Before entering the seminar room, faculty and students will be asked to check their coats and bags in our locker room. Visitors may use pencil only (we have an ample supply). Food and beverages are not allowed.
  • Students and faculty are welcome to take notebooks, secondary sources and laptops into the sessions.


Case studies from University of Reading academics

The following statements by academic staff at Reading describe how they have incorporated Special Collections material into their teaching, and the benefits to academic staff and students in using Special Collections material in teaching and learning:

'The MA(Res) in History was immediately a great success. One of the core modules, Historical Skills and Resources, runs in cooperation with Special Collections.

The students work on a set of archival documents from Special Collections. These may include posters, diaries, private correspondence, political manifestos and photographs. The students must produce a 4,000-word essay and an oral presentation ... The collaboration between the Department of History and Special Collections has always been fruitful, and this new module certainly stresses the importance of capitalising on the synergies between the theoretical approach of historical research and specialised hands-on training.'

Dr Linda Risso, MA Director, Department of History

'I use the University of Reading's authors' papers and publishers' archives in the modules 'The Writer's Workshop: Studying Manuscripts' (part 3) and 'Materiality and Textuality' (MA), and introduce students to the Beckett Collection in my module 'Samuel Beckett' (part 3). Within these modules, students are able to create an edition, study the genesis of a literary text or study the publication history of a text.

The excellent facilities and enthusiastic, well-informed staff at Special Collections offer an extremely rewarding teaching and learning environment. The response from students has been uniformly positive, as they are introduced to what Philip Larkin termed the 'magic' of archival research. Working with original manuscripts not only provides a sense of privilege, but also allows for a more practical, hands-on approach to the study of our literary and cultural heritage.'

Dr Mark Nixon, Reader in Modern Literature, Department of English Literature and Director of the Beckett International Foundation

'The Special Collections at Reading have been invaluable to my teaching and research. I run sessions on 'Reading Patterns / Distribution and Using the Publishers' Archives' for Masters and PhD students, and am trying to incorporate more 'hands on' sessions for undergraduate students too. For us in English, it is really useful to be able to get a sense of the materiality of literary production and a feeling for all of the different players - publishers, editors, readers, librarians and major book buyers - who help to shape a literary work.

The students really enjoy seeing archival materials and gaining a richer sense of the history of literature and publishing, and we all enjoy getting out of the department for our special sessions in MERL. Using the archives has also been a great opportunity for me to work with other staff in the University.'

Dr Nicola Wilson, Department of English Literature

'My Special Subject 'People and Ideas in the Early Enlightenment: Britain and the Republic of Letters' studies the movement of ideas, peoples and goods, especially books, in the context of the Republic of Letters in the period 1650-1750 ... The course is extremely primary source-heavy and while Reading has access to most of the relevant primary source databases and websites, it is important to the students' understanding of the topic that they also see this primary material 'in the flesh' ...

Reading's Special Collections offer a very varied selection of 17th and 18th century material, which is perfect for this course ... Often students are so inspired that they return to use this material to write their essay. It's a wonderful practical part of the course which the students always enjoy a great deal.'

Dr Esther Mijers, Lecturer in British History, Department of History

'My seminar at Special Collections was delivered as part of a 'Writing Women in Renaissance Italy' module which looks at writing and gender in Renaissance Italy for second year students of Italian ... Students were given the opportunity to handle rare Italian printed books dating from the incunable period ... and to study the layout of the material text, editorial additions and dedications.

After a short introduction to the Special Collections by Elizabeth McCarthy (UMASCS Librarian), I gave a short presentation on printing techniques and aspects of early modern books. The students in pairs then examined a selection of editions and completed a worksheet on the questions discussed and each presented their edition to the group. The session was felt to be very stimulating by the students, and a valuable insight into the culture of this period.'

Student feedback:

'Really worth the visit. Very interesting texts. First-hand experience is better than just seeing copies. Real history!'

'I enjoyed learning about how books were made and differences in the way books were published. It was amazing being able to actually touch the books of writers we have studied'.

'A very valuable addition to the course on Renaissance women writers - makes the writers of this time more accessible. Feel very privileged to see these!'

Dr Lisa Sampson, Associate Professor, Department of Modern Languages and European Studies

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