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Early Printed Books - catalogues and access

Most Western early printed books, periodicals and ephemera held by the British Library are described in our catalogue, Explore the British Library. There are also several important specialist catalogues which may help you identify items relevant to your research. Catalogue records created before the mid-1970s do not contain subject indexing, and different resources will need to be consulted if you wish to find early books on particular topics.

Using the collections

Materials in the care of the Early Printed Collections team form part of the United Kingdom's national printed archive. Care has to be taken to ensure that these collections remain available for future generations. Items are normally consulted in the Rare Books & Music Reading Room, for which a Reader Pass is required. A reference enquiries service is available inside the reading room, where advice relating to early printed materials can be sought. Some early printed items are now fragile and you may be encouraged to use a microfilm or other surrogate in place of the original. Early printed materials are not available for loan.

Rare Books and Music Reading Room

Rare Books and Music Reading Room © The British Library Board.


If you are unable to visit the Library in person

The Early Printed Collections team is often able to answer bibliographical enquiries relating to items in our care. Queries can be sent by email, letter or facsimile. They are answered free of charge, and we aim to respond within 10 working days. We are unable to answer enquiries relating to early printing in general, or to undertake complex or lengthy bibliographical research. Answers to some common queries are provided on our  page.

Subject to preservation and copyright considerations, it may be possible to obtain copies from early printed books and journals without visiting the Library. This service is provided by the Library's Imaging Services.


Printed Heritage Collections
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7564
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7691