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Social Science items available on the open access shelves

The majority of the Social Sciences collection is held in closed storage but some items are held on open access shelves in the Reading Room:

Reference material

We hold catalogues, encyclopaedias, international yearbooks, indexes and other quick reference materials to help with your research. In addition, the Reading Room provides access to a wide range of electronic databases and finding aids to support the use of our collections.

Books and journals

Our open access collection has more than 10,000 research-level books published in the UK within the last 4 years and across a range of Social Sciences disciplines. You will also find issues from the latest 12 months for nearly 750 academic and professional journals.

Use our Reading Room computers to access journal databases, including the Economist full-text archive, and Business Source Complete.

UK Official publications

Complete sets of UK central government publications from their beginning to the present day:

  • Cobbett's Parliamentary History
  • Hansard, 1803-
  • Standing Committee Debates, 1919 -
  • Commons and Lords Journals
  • House of Commons Sessional Papers of the Eighteenth Century (Lambert Reprint)

Use our electronic resources to search and read across a vast range of published and archival official documents. Resources include Commons and Lords parliamentary papers from 1688 to present, parliament rolls of medieval England, and the state papers of the Tudor monarchs.


Key UK publications of statistics are held for the most recent five years. You can also browse the published census reports for the UK, from 1921 to the reports of the most recent census in 2001. The reference shelves hold directories of statistics from international and historical sources. Electronic resources include reports and databases of the OECD.

Births Marriages and Deaths indexes

We have complete sets of the following indexes, to registrations made in England and Wales, available on microfiche:

  • Births, Marriages and Deaths from 1837 to present
  • Overseas Births, Marriages and Deaths from 1761-2007
  • Civil Partnerships from 2005 to present
  • Adoptions from 1927 to present

The microfiche are held in cabinets in the reading room. Accessing the microfiche makes it easier to order certificates from the General Register Office by quoting the GRO index reference numbers. Further information on ordering certificates can be found on the GRO web site.

More information on Family History research is available on our Genealogy web page .

European Documentation Centre

The open shelves have recent reports and policy documents of the European Union. Legislation of the EU can be found (from 1974 to present) in the Official Journal. More information about this collection on our website.

Law resources

Our print collections in the Reading Room include:

  • Public, Private and Local Statutes as enacted from 1797 to the present
  • Statutory Rules and Orders/Statutory Instruments as made from 1890 to the present

The reference collection contains core general encyclopaedias on English law, and the laws of Scotland, US Code, federal statutes and legislative histories, constitutions from around the world, judicial dictionaries, research guides, and a selection of academic and practice oriented text books.

Electronic resources include UK and EU legislation, case law, and selected legal journals via Westlaw UK, royal commission and law reform reports, white papers, bills and policy scrutiny, judicial, prison and criminal statistics, and treaties for the UK 1800 – date, US congressional documents and reports, and journals from the Common Law world and beyond via AGIS, HeinOnline, Sabinet and other databases.

Contact us

The Reference Enquiries team have detailed knowledge and experience to support your use of our collections. There is an enquiry desk in the Reading Room. Alternatively, you may contact the team as follows:

Social Sciences Reference Service
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7894
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7761

E-mail: Ask the Social Sciences Reference Team