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Selection policy

 Purchased monographs

The British Library purchases monographs for its Document Supply service in order to support research, teaching, scholarship and learning in universities, colleges, research institutions, businesses, government institutions, the health service and public libraries both in the UK and worldwide. Purchased material may duplicate legal deposit material in the British Library (which is not available for loan or document supply) or may supplement other British Library collections. We normally purchase only one copy of any title, but extra copies may be acquired to satisfy exceptional demand or to replace lost items.


The British Library welcomes unconditional offers of donations of individual titles, subject to our selection criteria below, for use in document supply. Normally we do not accept duplicate copies of items already in the collections. We may pass donation offers to another part of the British Library if the proposed donation is not required for document supply. We may reject an offer where any financial commitment (such as conservation costs or storage) may be considerable.


 Readers' recommendations

The British Library welcomes recommendations of books suitable for acquisition from readers, authors, publishers, booksellers and librarians, subject to our selection criteria below.


 General policies

General policy – level and treatment

The British Library selects for document supply, in advance where possible, books in English that represent a serious scholarly approach to a subject; from a high-level lay person's approach to undergraduate level or above, including most academic disciplines.

Academic interest

The British Library does not discriminate against material on the grounds of the ethnicity or gender of authors, their religion or political opinions, or the acceptability of views expressed in works. The Library holds, may acquire and may offer for document supply (subject to current English law) titles which may express opinions or contain illustrations which might be considered extreme, blasphemous, offensive or distasteful to some readers, the guiding principle being that the material is of legitimate academic interest.


The British Library abides by UK copyright law and by the terms and conditions of any licence covering electronic materials.

History and review of scoping policy

Selection policies are continually reviewed, and our holdings do not necessarily reflect our current policies. When our financial resources are limited, we may interpret these guidelines more strictly. Anyone is welcome to query a decision not to purchase and discuss our policies.



We aim to acquire books as soon as possible after publication but demand is an important part of the selection process. Failed requests provide a useful source of information for selection purposes. Librarians are therefore encouraged to send in requests for titles even if the titles do not appear to be available for loan in the British Library catalogue.

Dates and editions

We select recently published books.

We may select a facsimile edition of a classic work if we do not hold a loanable copy of the original edition.

Reprints including different format/imprint versions of titles already held, or with new introductions, are not selected unless there is significant additional content or amendment.

We do not acquire abridged editions.

We may select either hardback or paperback format depending on demand and resources available.

We may purchase newer editions of titles which are frequently updated. We would always purchase the most recent edition available, and prefer the UK (or if not available, the European/International edition) to the US edition if more than one version exists. However, we do not purchase loose-leaf updating material as monographs.

Level and treatment

As well as information supplied by the reader and publishers' catalogues or lists, other library catalogues, price information and the reputation of the publishing house are used to determine the treatment of a subject.

Juvenile, school and recreational works are out of scope, as are practical "how to" approaches.

Question and answer tests, exam papers and pass notes, psychological tests, inventories and questionnaires are out of scope.

UK doctoral theses may be available via the EThOS (Electronic Theses Online Service) website We do not purchase overseas theses unless published by a mainstream publisher.

Multimedia items/electronic materials

Although we prefer to obtain publications in book format, we select all publications regardless of format (book, microform, electronic etc.), as long as the publisher permits us to loan the work to Document Supply customers.

Where a substantial and discrete proportion of the work is available for loan (e.g. book plus CD with restrictive licence), we may select the whole publication but only loan the unrestricted part.

We select publications which include access to websites, but we do not provide customers with the passwords to restricted websites.

We do not select e-books and other multimedia publications where we do not have permission to loan the work to Document supply customers.

 Guidelines on specific subjects

The arts, including music, cinema, TV and photography

In scope:

  • Scholarly and academic texts on theory, techniques, history, aesthetics and philosophy of art
  • Works which give critical comment, historical perspective or socio-cultural analysis
  • Monographs on individual artists, collections or movements
  • Exhibition catalogues, albums and catalogues raisonnées
  • Critical editions of journals, diaries, letters, theoretical works and manifestos by artists or art movements
  • Works on artistic movements and collections of works containing reproductions rarely seen elsewhere, where the pictorial content is the primary research material
  • Compilations of plates with some critical text
  • Photojournalism documentary photography and historical documentation
  • Art photography
  • Landscape photography and photographs of a particular locality, subject to level

Out of scope:

  • Low-level, popular works aimed at the general reader
  • Basic art appreciation
  • "How-to" texts
  • Advice on techniques, technology and equipment
  • Pornography
  • Collectors', sale, and auction catalogues
  • Sets of loose plates without accompanying text

Autobiographies, biographies, memoirs, diaries and letters

In scope:

  • All the above categories are in scope, subject to level and treatment. Price and publisher are usually sound indicators of level. A person does not have to be particularly eminent as long as they are of some social or historical significance
  • Biographical dictionaries and bio-bibliographies of individuals
  • Travel accounts which provide insights into socio-cultural history

Out of scope:

  • Autobiographies, biographies of ephemeral achievers which are anecdotal in nature
  • Discographies, filmographies and similar works are not in scope unless accompanied by critical or biographical material
  • Anecdotal travel accounts


In scope:

  • Books on all aspects of business subject to level and treatment
  • Management theories and techniques
  • Professional "how to" books, codes of practice and guidelines

Out of scope:

  • Company annual reports
  • Market research reports
  • Low level books on business or basic "how to" titles
  • Updating material
  • Standard forms and letters, e.g. contracts
  • Short case studies of individual companies, e. g. Harvard Business School case studies


In scope:

  • Monographs aimed at undergraduate level and above, for academics, programmers and professional business users on programming, hardware and software design, networking, e-commerce and administration

Out of scope:

  • Books aimed at the beginner, the home or recreational user
  • Books on how to use recreational or office software packages or applications such as Excel or Word
  • Textbooks for passing professional examinations (e.g. MSCE)
  • Instructions and manuals for using software packages
  • Training packages
  • Programming tutorials
  • “How to use” mathematical & statistical analysis packages


In scope:

  • Monographs on all aspects of education aimed at undergraduate level and above, for teachers and researchers
  • Professional level books aimed at educators and school administrators

Out of scope:

  • Books aimed at teaching assistants, parents and home educators
  • Examination and revision material, study guides
  • Lesson plans, activities and games, hand-outs, learning resources and practical “how-to” books
  • Curriculum resources and guidance


In scope:

  • The structure, history, philosophy and theory of law
  • Monographs and textbooks on case law

Out of scope:

  • Loose-leaf updating material
  • Lay persons' guides, consumer handbooks and quick reference works
  • Examination and revision material


  • We acquire comprehensively all books on librarianship and information science subject to level and treatment


In scope:

  • Critical studies of sufficiently high level
  • Literary texts and translations with substantial scholarly comment and essays
  • Edited reprints, facsimiles, or collected works may be selected if no loanable previous edition is held

Out of scope:

  • Fiction, drama, poetry and translations of these unless accompanied by significant editorial or critical material

Local history

In scope:

  • Well researched local histories of academic interest would be considered for selection
  • Works containing reproductions and photographs rarely seen elsewhere

Out of scope: 

  • Items of purely local interest, genealogical works, "nostalgic" photographic histories

Medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, veterinary science

In scope:

  • All branches of this literature, if aimed at practitioners
  • Alternative medicine, e.g. homeopathy and hypnosis, subject to the usual rules on level and treatment, if aimed at practitioners
  • Medical and nursing textbooks
  • Medical atlases
  • Psychological test manuals

Out of scope:

  • Self-help guides
  • Popular works
  • Psychological test and inventory packs
  • Exam questions, review and revision tools
  • Quick reference pocket books for practitioners

Military history

In scope:

  • Works on wars, significant battles or campaigns
  • Military theory
  • Socio-political aspects of military history and warfare
  • Atlases of battles or campaigns in book form
  • Books on weaponry aimed at the specialist, not the amateur or recreational user
  • Personal histories and accounts of events or periods of history which provide insight into socio-cultural history

Out of scope:

  • Unit histories, largely because of their content-usually lists of campaigns, personnel, pictures of uniforms, etc.
  • Books on uniforms without significant scholarly text
  • Listings of military awards
  • Rolls of honour
  • Anecdotal accounts of military history and events

Natural History

Well researched natural history of academic interest will be considered for purchase even if concentrating on a particular locality.

In scope:

  • Scholarly works for the lay naturalist, practitioner or scientist

Out of scope:

  • Guidebooks of purely local interest
  • Pocket field guides with little text


In scope:

  • The entire breadth of opinion on all political viewpoints and theories, subject to level and treatment
  • All historical and current aspects of politics

Works offering a partisan or extreme approach, or conspiracy theories may be considered for selection where the subject matter is of academic interest.

Out of scope:

  • Ephemeral party political pamphlets and manifestos

Reference works

Subject to the normal criteria of scope, level and treatment, reference works may be selected. We make available for loan to smaller libraries works that would otherwise only be available for reference in major libraries.

In scope:

  • Major subject bibliographies, major language and linguistic and subject dictionaries and atlases and encyclopaedias of academic level

Out of scope:

  • Quick reference works, low level works and printed library catalogues


In scope:

  • Books on all religions, whether mainstream or fringe, cults and the occult, subject to level and treatment
  • Theology, critical, historical and comparative works on religion and politico-religious topics
  • Books on or about religious doctrine with an annotated, critical or systematic presentation of the subject
  • Well-annotated texts and translations of classic works
  • Works by eminent religious figures subject to level and treatment
  • Major policy documents or official reports (e.g. from World Council of Churches)

Out of scope:

  • Books on or about religious doctrine which are mostly pastoral or proselytising in nature, i.e. works designed to develop, promote or foster a religion
  • Un-annotated translations aimed at a popular readership; un-annotated liturgical texts, prayers and forms of worship from any religion
  • Pastoral material, designed to give doctrinal, social or personal guidance in the practice of a faith