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London Metropolitan University

Special Collections: Home

Welcome to London Metropolitan University's Special Collections

A female scientist performing a lab experimentOur Special Collections are a combination of archives, rare library books and pamphlets, and historic objects from collections like the University Archive, The Archive of Irish in Britain, the Trades Union Congress Library collections and the Frederick Parker Archives and Chair collection. 

These collections document a history of local business, community life, trade union activity, and the University (including its various predecessors). The stories of the people and organisations these records hold span over 350 years and can be found in many different formats such as letters, oral history and photographs.

To start your research of the collections, please visit our online catalogue


Staff and students of the University are welcome to drop into the Special Collections Reading Room during opening hours and without appointment, in order to consult the reference material on the open shelves, and/or for private study. However, most of the Special Collections material is not immediately accessible. In order to view such material, visitors are asked to make an appointment in advance, providing 2 working days' notice.

To book an appointment, staff and students are to log in using their university credentials. Admission for external visitors is via email consultation and registration

Our opening hours can be found under Library locations and opening hours

Please get in contact with our team via email if you have any questions.


Click through the gallery below to discover:

  • what an archive is and what a primary source is
  • how you can access Special Collections and how archives can be used by students
  • how we care for our records 

What is an archive?

The term archive(s) can be thought of in TWO different ways. It can refer to a building that holds a collection of historical records or it can refer to the collection itself.

In our Special Collections we hold a number of archives, which record information about community activity, business or institutional operations, and more often than not, tell us about the experience of an individual or group who has lived through both the ordinary and extraordinary.

This is why archives (and their records) are important to our understanding of the past, because they provide a contemporary account through the voice of those who have lived it.

What is a primary source?

Our archives largely contain primary source material, examples of which include personal papers, photographs and oral history. These firsthand or contemporary accounts of can provide a more representative view of historical events or themes, through the written or spoken voice of those who lived it and, as a result, are a valuable resource for academic study and personal research.  

For students who choose to use primary sources in their work, this will show tutors they have engaged more thoroughly with a topic; exploring the wider context to further understand the impact on related individuals or community groups.

For example, in the letter display above, from December 1938, J. Canon Ring writes that he cannot attend an upcoming meeting of the Anti-Partition League [of Ireland] but hopes it will be a success. However, he does briefly express his thoughts on Ireland in the letter, as follows … 

“I have hope to live to see that Partition-blot wiped off the reputation of England. It is entirely England’s trick to divide and keep under subjection Ireland. But the plot has miscarried and the thing is not paying as creditable. That is why I hope to see its termination.” 

The Anti-Partition of Ireland League (AIB/APL) was founded in London in 1938 with the aim of educating the British public on what they described as 'the iniquity of Partition in Ireland and the necessity for restoring the Six Counties to the rest of Ireland'. Their membership included those involved in other Irish organisations, such as the Gaelic League, Gaelic Athletic Association, and London-Irish Rugby Club, as well as priests, nurses, journalists, academics and others from the Irish diaspora. They labelled themselves as non-sectarian and independent of any political party, as well as open to both British and Irish individuals interested. 

The League's activities appear to have been suspended with the announcement of Britain entering World War Two. Prior to that, it had already suffered from financial difficulties and resignations, particularly after the beginning of an IRA bombing campaign in Britain. In 1945, the Irish Anti Partition League (IAPL) was founded in Northern Ireland. These records do not mention this later organisation, or provide evidence of any links between the groups. 

Where can you find and access the Special Collections?

Located on the site of a former Victorian public bath house, our collections and Reading Room are located in the Wash Houses, on Aldgate campus:

16 Goulston Street
E1 7TP  

Opening hours: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays (10-5)

As you walk through reception, turn left and follow floor signs through to the Wash Houses.

Students are welcome to drop into our Reading Room during opening hours and without appointment, in order to consult the reference material on the open shelves, and/or for private study. However, most of the Special Collections material is not immediately accessible. In order to view such material, visitors are asked to make an appointment in advance, providing 2 working days' notice. To book an appointment, students are to log in using their university credentials. For more information see: Book your visit.

How do we care for our records

To make sure our Special Collections are cared for, archival records and rare library material are stored in secure and environmentally-controlled rooms. Temperature and relative humidity levels are periodically monitored to identify any significant changes and, if required, make the relevant adjustments. 

Different archival formats, such as 35mm acetate film or vellum parchment, each require lower and higher temperatures and relative humidity, to maximise their lifespan. 

When researchers access archival material in the reading room, we ask that careful handling is maintained. This includes, for instance, wearing vinyl gloves to handle photographs, or using book supports to relieve pressure on the spine when reading and turning pages.  

To help provide remote (and wider) access to material, we digitise records for publication online or use on dedicated terminals in our reading room. Digitisation can also be a form of preservation, because the original can be left in its box and the digital surrogate can be viewed instead. Therefore preventing wear and tear, and unnecessary handling by the researcher. 

Throughout our daily life, we might take photographs, collect objects or write correspondence (either via social media or email). 

How can archives be used by students?

There are a number of different ways archive material can be useful to students for academic study and developing related skills:

Creative response

Our collections are filled with a variety of original media used by researchers for creative response work. These include primary source material like recorded sound, visual arts including commercial prints and posters, alongside secondary source material like our Artists’ books and early 20th century journals including The Cabinetmaker.

We offer workshops and focused sessions where groups, like our Visual Communication (Graphic Design) students, can introduce themselves to selected collections and access material e.g. our poster collections, which can provide inspiration on lines, shapes and fonts.

Critical analysis

A critical analysis examines and evaluates someone else’s work, such as a book, artwork, or an object, such as a chair. It requires two steps: a careful study of that work and a thoughtful analysis of the information presented in – or message(s) conveyed by - that work.

Although this may sound complicated, all you are doing is closely reading or evaluating work and providing your opinion on how well its creator accomplished their purpose.

Critical analyses are most frequently done in academic settings (such as a class assignment). Writing a critical analysis demonstrates that you can read or study work and think deeply about it. However, critical thinking skills are vital outside of an educational context as well. You just don’t always have to demonstrate them in, for example, essay form.

Information and digital literacy

Research work conducted in our archives is a fantastic way to develop your information and digital literacy. In particular, using finding aids like our online catalogue to understand how information or data is organised, and described. It also provides an introduction to working with material created or owned by others, and what processes are required to correctly reference (or clear rights) in order to avoid plagiarism and copyright infringement. 

For students, building these information skills will prove useful for future employment opportunities. In particular, developing a knowledge of how to implement effective search strategies, and the ability to communicate information and data effectively.