A print onto a glass wall that shows suffrage campaigners dressed as prisoners marching along a street.

Access archives and special collections

Get started using our unique and distinctive material.

Visit the reading room on the 4th floor (The Women's Library Reading Room) to use our archives and special collections. 

Beginning your research

Search our catalogues to find out more about the collections that we hold in order to identify material that is relevant to your research.

Contact the Library if you need assistance identifying material relevant to your research. 

Already got a Library card?

Just email with the details of when you want to visit and what you want to use.

Order up to 3 items a minimum of 2 working days in advance of your visit. You can order additional items when you are here.

Provide us with full details of what you require:

  • file reference (eg 'HCA/CHE/2/1', '3AMS/A/01/22')
  • box number (for items from The Women’s Library, as given in the catalogue description) 
  • URL link to the item

Not got a Library card?

Join the Library. The application process can take up to 5 working days. 

In your application include details of when you want to visit and what you want to use.


Take your own photographs of items. Flash photography and scanners are not permitted.

Make sure you follow copyright guidance. Responsibility for infringement of copyright is borne by the person making the copy, and the person (if different) for whom the copy is being made.

Read our guide to copying archival material

What can I take images of in the Reading Room?

You may take images of any item from the collections, as long as it’s for non-commercial research purposes.

Are there any limits on how much I can copy?

Yes. Fair dealing applies to all copyright works and suggests limits as follows:

  •  One article from a journal
  •  One chapter from a book
  •  One short story or poem from an anthology
  •  Up to 5% extracted from a work

You may only make one copy and that must only be used for non-commercial research or private study, or for criticism, review or news reporting.

What if I want to use an item in my book/article/website?

The only permitted use for making copies of copyrighted works in the Reading Room is for non-commercial purposes. If you wish to make copies with the intention of publishing then you must provide written permission from the copyright holder(s) first, or obtain a licence for publishing orphan works from the Intellectual Property Office.

There are no restrictions on copying and publishing works that are out of copyright.

How do I know if a work is out of copyright?

Copyright is a very complicated area and it can be difficult to determine whether something is in copyright or not, and consequently what you can do with it. The following is a guide, and should not be considered as legal advice:

  • Copyright in published works expires 70 years after the death of the author
  • Copyright in unpublished works, regardless of age, expires 31st December 2039
  • Copyright in published works with no specified author expires 70 years after publication
  • Copyright in photographs where the photographer is unknown expires 70 years after creation

Unpublished works, though still in copyright, may be published without infringement if the work was created before 1 August 1989; and the author has been dead for more than 50 years; and the work is more than 100 years old.

How do I find out who the copyright holder is?

There are a variety of sources to try, such as the WATCH database, DACS, the National Portrait Gallery (for photographers), and Who Was Who.

It is your responsibility to gain permission from the copyright holders if you intend to publish any of the images you take in the Reading Room.

Can LSE Library trace copyright for me?

Very rarely: in a small amount of cases we have up to date contact details for copyright holders or their estates, and we are willing to pass permission requests on for you.

LSE Library cannot grant permission to publish works where the copyright is held by a third party. 

What photography equipment can I bring?

All equipment that will fit on a Reading Room table is permitted with the following exceptions:

  •  Flash photography is not permitted under any circumstances
  •  The use of portable or flat-bed scanners is not permitted
  •  Users must disable electronic camera sounds and avoid disturbing other users

There is no dedicated space for photography in the Reading Room, but we are happy to sit users close to a window to maximise natural light. The Reading Room has ceiling lights and adjustable lamps on the desks. You are welcome to bring props to shield/scatter light as long as they do not encroach onto another user space. We place no restrictions on the quality of images taken, and we do not charge a fee for using a camera.


Data Protection guidance

Under the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR 2018) researchers are responsible for the personal data they obtain and the subsequent use they make of it.

Read our data protection guidance

Under GDPR researchers are responsible for the personal data they obtain and the subsequent use they make of it.

As a general rule researchers may process personal data in accordance with Article 89 of GDPR.

However, researchers should bear in mind the following when handling personal data:

  • GDPR only applies to the personal data of living individuals
  • Do not use personal data to support measures or decisions concerning an individual
  • Do not use personal data to cause substantial damage or distress to individuals
  • Whenever possible depersonalise or anonymise personal data
  • Keep personal data secure
  • Do not disclose personal data to anyone else without ensuring you do so in accordance with the GDPR.

Further information on GDPR is available on the Information Commissioner’s website.

Please note that this information is not intended as legal advice, or a substitute for it, but is guidance intended to provide practical support and to promote good practice. 


Closed files

Files may be listed on the archives catalogue as closed or unavailable to users.

Freedom of Information guidance

While most of the archives that we hold are open, some items are not available for consultation in the reading room. These are flagged on the archives catalogue as ‘closed’ or 'unavailable'. Such closures generally fall into two categories:

1. Closed under data protection law

Some items may be closed because they contain personal information about named or identifiable individuals who are (or may be) still alive. In the past, a variety of different criteria have been used when making decisions about this type of closure, but we are currently governed by GDPR.

We take a number of factors into consideration when deciding whether to close a file or a series of files, including:

  • the nature and sensitivity of the personal data, and the effect which disclosure might have on the data subject
  • the structure of the data - how easy it would be to locate particular information about a particular individual
  • the confidentiality of the data - whether the data subject reasonably assumes at the time the data are compiled that it should and will remain totally confidential

Further information on the GDPR can be found on the website of the Information Commissioner.

2. Closed at the request of the depositor

Some items may be closed at the request of the depositor, if they feel that the material has ongoing sensitivity and do not wish it to be made publicly available until a period of time has elapsed.

Can I request information held in closed files?

Yes, you can. Write or email describing the information you are looking for, and if the information is not subject to an exemption under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI), it will be made available to you.

You should send your request to the Archives and Special Collections Team, c/o Academic Services Group, LSE Library

  • email us
  • post: Archives and Special Collections Team, c/o Academic Services Group, LSE Library, 10 Portugal Street, London WC2A 2HD

It will help us answer your request if you can be as specific as possible about the information you are looking for, rather than simply requesting access to a file or files.

If your request is refused, we will identify which exemption(s) applies, and give you details of how to apply for an internal review of our decision to refuse. If, after an internal review, the School still refuses your request, you may ask the Information Commissioner to review that decision.