School of Oriental and African Studies Library

The Library, School of Oriental and African Studies
Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG

(020) 7637 4163


There is no separate history collection. Material with the exception of law and art is arranged primarily by region, sub-divided by the countries and languages of that region; and there is also a general, non-regional collection for mainly social sciences and humanities. Within these sub-divisions there is a shelf arrangement by subject using a modified form of the Dewey Decimal classification. Special Collections (archives, manuscripts, rare books, theses) are kept in closed access, and are ordered and consulted in the Special Collections Reading Room.

Hours of opening:

Term-time, Christmas and Easter Vacations:

Monday – Thursday 0900 - 2330
(issue desk closes at 2000 membership at 1855)  
Friday 0900 - 2330
(issue and membership desks close at 1855)  
Saturday  1030 - 1800
(issue and membership desks close at 5.45pm)  
Sunday 1030 - 1800  
(unstaffed: self-service only)  

No new membership cards orday passes issued after 6.55pm Monday-Friday,

after 5.45pm Saturday and all day Sunday.

Those wishing to borrow or return items may use the self-service machines.

Summer vacation (21st June – 27th Sept 2010)

Monday – Friday 0900 - 2100 (unstaffed after 1700)
Saturday 1030 - 1800 (staffed)
Sunday  1030 - 1800 (unstaffed)

No new membership cards or day passes issued after 4.45pm Monday-Friday, after 5.45pm Saturday and all day Sunday.

(Closed on August Bank Holiday weekend.)

Special Collections Reading Room

Monday – Tuesday 0900 – 1700
Thursday – Friday  0900 – 1700

(Closed Wednesdays)


Annual Closures SOAS Library has no fixed Annual Closed Period other than the usual Christmas and Easter Holidays and some Bank Holiday weekends. Anyone planning to come to SOAS please check this site for current information before visiting.

The Library may only be open to existing ticket holders on certain Saturdays. If you wish to apply for a ticket on a Saturday you should call the Library during the week to confirm if the membership desk is operating on a particular Saturday.

Please refer to ARCHIVES AND SPECIAL COLLECTIONS for information regarding opening times for the Special Collections Reading Room if you wish to consult maps, archives, manu8scripts, rare books and theses. More restricted hours apply.


The Library is open for reference purposes to other students of the University if the material they need is not available elsewhere. Archives and Special Collections are open to all, subject to a letter of introduction. See ARCHIVES AND SPECIAL COLLECTIONS for more information.

Occasional access (maximum five day-passes in a year) is granted if a college library ticket and or identity card is shown; this excludes closed-access collections or certain IT services.  Fees are charged to some users from outside the University of London. If access for longer-term use is required, then students are expected to become members of the Library:

Requests for membership should be made on the appropriate form for taught-course or research students, counter-signed by the student's Tutor or supervisor. Students on taught courses are normally granted reference membership but only University of London research students may be allowed to borrow. Inter-collegiate students attending courses organised by the School have the privileges of SOAS students. External members may not normally use material in the Teaching Collection; the location of material within the Library is indicated in the catalogue.

SOAS Library is a member of the SCONUL Research Extra scheme.

There is wheelchair access.

Archives and special collections:

Rare books and periodicals, microforms, pamphlets and all manuscripts and archives are on closed access, and can only be consulted by members after the request has been approved and a collection made. There are only three or four collections a day, Monday to Friday, so students must be prepared for delay or to make more than one visit if they wish to use these categories of material. If in doubt, a letter or telephone call can save a wasted journey. Special arrangements apply in order to access archive and manuscript material.  Members of the public can apply for an archives ticket, subject to a letter of introduction. Please contact or telephone +44(0)20 7898 4180 for further information.

If you have specific reference numbers for items you wish to consult from Archives and Special Collections, you can order them in advance of your visit by e-mailing or telephoning +44(0)20 7898 4180. Please allow at least one full working day’s notice to avoid delay in processing your request.

Opening hours for the Special Collections Room are Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 0900-1700. The Reading Room is closed on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.

Collection times are at 1000, 1130, 1400 and 1600.

Reader places:

There are approximately 900 places for readers distributed throughout the library. Certain areas of the Library have Wi-Fi access.

Librarian in charge of History collection:

Mary Seeley

It may be useful to also contact the relevant regional subject librarian. A list can be found here

Staff availability:

Staff are normally available throughout library opening hours but if particular assistance is required it may be necessary to make an appointment with the relevant member of staff.


The library's online catalogue is available on the web at (also link from the library webpage). The catalogue contains records for about three quarters of the library’s holdings and retrospective conversion of the old card catalogue is in progress.  The Library's card catalogue has been digitized and is accessible from the Library website at There is no separate history catalogue and the old subject catalogues are arranged primarily by region, sub-divided by countries and languages, followed by a standard set of subject headings of which history is one.

An online catalogue to the archive collections is available at There are also unpublished hand-lists. Descriptions of the main archive collections are available at


The classification is a local variant of the Dewey Decimal classification which is preceded by letters signifying countries and languages. Some regional collections have not fully converted to this system and use older or in-house arrangements.


There are c. 1.2 million volumes of books (including a growing number of e-books), pamphlets, and periodicals (including extensive e-journals), and in addition there are substantial collections of microforms, audio-visual materials, manuscripts and archives. There is also an extensive range of electronic databases. Access is possible to most e-journals and databases by visitors while on-campus. The library holds a number of important archive collections, particularly the archives of several missionary societies, and one of the largest collections of UK archives relating to Chia in the 19th and 20th centuries.  A published Guide to the Archives and Manuscript Collections in SOAS Library, (SOAS, 1994) is available. Serials records do not always record all details of incomplete sets of serials. If information is required on particular volume holdings, especially from users based outside the Bloomsbury area, enquiries can be directed to staff in Acquisitions and Bibliographic Services (ext 4791 or Approximately 160,000 items are stored off-site. This will be indicated on the Location List. Library users should also consult the relevant subject Librarian for information on retrieval of individual items.

Special collections or strengths:

The strength of the collection for the historian is a consistent collection programme since the School's foundation in 1917 of material on the history of Asia, Africa and the Pacific Islands in both western languages and those of the respective regions. The collections have been developed bearing in mind the strengths and interests of other collections in the London area. The library actively collects catalogues and guides to libraries and archive depositories, where relevant, throughout the world. The Library holds a number of named book collections, including the Hardyman Madagascar Collection and the Burma Campaign Memorial Library. The Archives, Manuscripts and Rare Books Section also holds the libraries of the Council for World Mission/London Missionary Society and the Methodist Missionary Society, in addition to their archive collections. It is thus a particular strength for the study of the history of Western missionary enterprise. The Library holds a significant collection of vernacular manuscripts, including especially Swahili, Arabic and South Asian languages.

Additional facilities:

Visitors will be allocated a temporary log-in and password to access the networked cash-operated photocopying facilities. Rare books and manuscript collections can only be copied for readers at a higher charge by archive staff at their discretion. All copying is covered by the relevant copyright restrictions. There is a range of microfilm and microfiche readers available and a reader/printer can be used by appointment with the Technician for a fee. Carrels are not available for outside readers but there is a variety of working environments. There are facilities for using material in the audio-visual collection. 

The School has a self-service restaurant and snack bar, and a take-away coffee-shop in the Students' Union.