African printed books and journals

View of Dithakong, the Tlhaping capital in the northern Cape, South Africa, in 1801, by Samuel Daniell
View of Dithakong, South Africa, from African Scenery and Animals, published in 1804-5 by Samuel Daniell (458.h.14).

Our extensive collections of published books and periodicals from and about Africa range from the earliest descriptions of the continent to the latest publications. The collections are strongest for Anglophone countries, but cover the whole continent.

About the collection

Our historical collections include some of the earliest publications from Africa, as well as European travel literature and the writings of medieval Arabic geographers about the continent.

We have past and current research publications across all academic disciplines, published in Africa and other regions of the world.

Books and journals acquired from Africa include:

  • works by scholars, researchers and thinkers
  • reports from non-governmental organisations
  • literary works in European and African languages.

We also have strong collections of government publications from Africa.

What is available online?

You can search our main catalogue Explore the British Library to find African books and journals. Some older books on Africa have been digitised and are available online through this catalogue.

The E-thesis Online Service provides access to PhD theses on Africa from British universities.

Our West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song web presentation showcases some published items in our collections.

Some journal articles and dissertations are now freely available on the internet on an open access basis. African Digital Research Repositories and the African Journal Archive provide free content.

For a digitised database of publications on development issues see Eldis.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

You can view books, journals and government publications in our Reading Rooms.

As well as hard-copy publications, we hold a wide variety of e-resources which are available in our reading rooms (for licensing reasons, these are not usually available off-site). These include:

  • Africa-Wide, a reference database containing numerous records of books and journals as well as some full-text resources, including newspaper reports
  • African Blue Books, 1821-1953
  • large journal collections, which include the Sabinet collection of South African journals
  • historical databases containing digitised published material, for example Nineteenth Century Collections Online.

What is available in other organisations?

  • To research other UK libraries’ collections use COPAC, the joint catalogue.

How to guides

Terms of use for Google Books

This page states the terms and conditions surrounding the British Library’s out of copyright books which have been digitised by Google.

How to request items not in the catalogue

You can use 'Request Other Items' to order items which have no record in Explore the British Library. Also to order most items found in Expore Archives and Manuscripts.

Free Discovery and 1-2-1 sessions: 2019

We offer a range of free Discovery and 1-2-1 sessions to help you make the most of your time researching here.

Guide to Explore the British Library

A guide to help you use the catalogue, covering: login, search, how to manage your results, how to order/view items

What collection items can I view online?

You can see books, manuscripts, maps, playbills, scores and much more. Researchers can use our collection of electronic resources and databases to help them find material relevant to their research.

Can I take photographs of British Library material myself?

You can now take photos of our collection items yourself in British Library Reading Rooms

Can I copy material in the Reading Rooms?

What you need to know about copying British Library collections in our Reading Rooms

Conditions of Use of British Library Reading Rooms

You need to follow some rules if you want to use our Reading Rooms

Breaches of British Library Reading Room Conditions of Use

These guidelines outline the British Library’s policies and procedures with regard to breaches of its Reading Room Conditions of Use. They are to ensure consistency in the actions taken in response to such breaches and to define the appropriate roles and responsibilities in the process.

Electronic resources

We collect thousands of electronic journals, books and websites and hundreds of databases. You’ll need to come to the British Library to access the majority of these resources.

Get a Reader Pass

Access over 200 million collection items for free with a Reader Pass. Carry out research in our Reading Rooms and access our online collections.

Search for resources in microforms

How to search for resources in microforms

How to get a Reader Pass if you are under 18

How to apply for an under 18 Reader Pass

How to order images

Instructions on how to order images of the British Library's collections from our Imaging Services

Guide to researching provenance of books now in the British Library

Where do the British Library’s old printed books ‘come from'? Who owned or read them in centuries past? Why does it matter?