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Hispanic Collection Development Policy

The following policy operates under the Library's general policy statements on collection development.

Some of the material acquired under this policy is available for loan or document supply through the Library's Document Supply service.


Hispanic books have been present in the Library's collections from the earliest years of the British Museum. Works of Hispanic authors in Spanish and Latin figured among the books of Sir Hans Sloane and of the Old Royal Library, two of the three foundation collections. Significant items entered the Library with the major donations of Cracherode (1799), the King's Library (1823) and, most notably, Thomas Grenville (1846). In 1900 Henry Spencer Ashbee donated his collection of editions of the works of Miguel de Cervantes, one of the finest outside Spain. During the second half of the 19th century, many notable purchases were made, both of individual books and at the auctions of major collections. Worthy of note are the acquisition of the unique surviving copy of the first four books of Amadís de Gaula (1895), of Mexican items once owned by José Fernando Ramírez, minister under the Emperor Maximilian (1880), and of books from the Heredia library (1891-1894). The collection of early Hispanic printed books was added to in the 20th century and continues in the present, as opportunities arise. The major emphasis today, however, is on the acquisition of current research material from all countries in the Hispanic world.

Collection development policy

The Hispanic Section today acquires modern printed books, serials and electronic publications from Spain, Portugal, Latin America, the Spanish-speaking Caribbean and the former Hispanic territories in Africa and Asia. In addition to Spanish and Portuguese, the languages covered include Basque, Catalan, Galician and, to a limited extent, the indigenous languages of Central and South America. All secondary material is at research level, while primary material, including works of literature, is itself envisaged as the subject of research.

Collection strengths

The Library's collection of early Spanish books is arguably the finest outside Spain. All major authors and presses are well represented for the period before 1800 and many unique copies are present. A particular strength lies in the collection of romances of chivalry, many from the library of Thomas Grenville. Holdings of the works of Cervantes include all five 1605 editions of the first part of Don Quixote. The collection of editions of Golden Age plays is also extraordinarily rich and offers scope for further study. Notable works in peninsular languages other than Spanish are one of the three surviving copies of the first edition of Tirant lo blanc (Valencia, 1490) and a splendid copy of the New Testament in Basque (La Rochelle, 1571). The outstanding collection of colonial Spanish American imprints includes a copy of the first surviving book printed in the New World (Mexico, 1543) and three of the first four books printed in South America (Lima, 1584-1585).

The modern collections focus on the areas of traditional strengths: Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American literature; language and linguistics; the history of the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America (of all periods, covering political, economic and social history); historical bibliography; folklore; anthropology. 'New' subject areas in the humanities have been added, e.g. film, gay and women's studies, while substantial works on subjects of international importance: the drug trade, AIDS, social marginalisation and drug addiction, are also collected. Books on the visual arts (monographs and exhibition catalogues) are acquired as budgets allow. Studies of significant phenomena particular to a country or region: liberation theology in Latin America; the Chiapas rising; rural depopulation, are considered important. Major official publications (annual statistical volumes, texts of constitutions, official gazettes) are acquired for each country. Subjects that are acquired only very selectively include law, modern theology, philosophy and archaeology. Modern rare books from Spain or Latin America are occasionally acquired. A notable exception, however, is the Library's collection of hand-made books from Cuba, produced by the Vigía workshop (Matanzas, 1985 to date).