Black Britain: publications

A selection of books held by the British Library

The British Library holds a wide-ranging and growing collection of published materials from around the world, with particularly strong coverage of publications from Britain. These include books, academic and scientific journals, newspapers, magazines, pamphlets and zines, e-books, e-journals and websites.

About the collection

Our holdings of publications are wide-ranging and cover all disciplines. We have very strong holdings of British publications, and strong holdings of publications from around the world, in English and a wide range of other languages. They include academic and general interest publications, as well as government publications, legal and business resources, children’s books, newspapers, magazines, fiction, graphic novels, comics, zines and newsletters. The collections include a wide range of publications from and about Africa and the Caribbean in all formats, with very strong coverage of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences.

While it is rich in historical resources, the collection of printed publications is still growing. Many recent British publications come into the Library in electronic format, as e-books or e-journals, meaning that readers in our reading rooms can consult them soon after publication.

From the UK, the collections feature:

  • the earliest publications by Black people in Britain, including 18th-century slave narratives and 19th-century abolitionist literature
  • 19th-century playbills and other material relating to the actor Ira Aldridge
  • pamphlets and newssheets of the League of Coloured Peoples from the early 1930s
  • publications from Bogle L’Ouverture, New Beacon Books, Hansib Publications, Peepal Tree Books, Hope Road, Jacaranda, and other independent UK presses focusing on the expression and experience of African and Caribbean communities in Britain, and their role in British history
  • journals associated with the British Black power movement including issues of Black Dimension, Race Today and Race & Class
  • UK newspapers and magazines from the Voice to Black music magazine Echoes
  • contemporary zines focused on race, ethnicity or identity
  • oral history interviews with writers and publishers
  • published books and periodicals from and about Africa, in English and other languages, described in more detail on the African printed books and journals page.
  • materials related to the Caribbean, including books, journals, newspapers, maps and official publications in English, Spanish, and French, described more fully under Caribbean collections.

What is available online?

You can find out more about what we have by using our our main catalogue Explore the British Library for printed music, books, journals and newspapers. The option to ‘Explore Further’ allows you to search for materials that are available online.

Older books that we have digitised and made available freely online can be found by searching our main catalogue Explore the British Library. From the search results, selecting ‘online’ in the left hand window will display materials that can be viewed online outside the Library. Select ‘I want this’ to view an individual item.

A limited number of electronic resources to which the Library subscribes are available outside the Library to British Library reader pass holders.  

The (open) UK Web Archive includes archived websites where website owners have given permission for them to be available outside the Library.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

Almost all of the Library’s published materials are listed in the main catalogue and can be consulted in reading rooms. Older materials in some languages are listed in printed catalogues that are available in the Reading Rooms.

Some early printed books are restricted to the Rare Books & Music Reading Room or the Asian and African Studies Reading Room, but most publications can be consulted in any reading room. The Newsroom is equipped with microfiche readers and terminals to access news resources online.

Very many academic journals and nearly half of current UK-published books are received in electronic format and can be consulted immediately on reading room computer terminals, as can electronic resources the Library subscribes to, including ‘Slavery & Anti-Slavery’, and ‘Slavery, abolition and social justice’. These allow readers to study archival sources from other institutions alongside materials held by the Library.

What is available in other organisations?

Black Cultural Archives, Brixton, London. The Black Cultural Archives is the only national heritage centre dedicated to collecting, preserving and celebrating the histories of African and Caribbean people in Britain.  Its collections include a wide range of published materials.

Stuart Hall Library, Iniva, Rivington Place, London. The collection focuses on contemporary art from Africa, Asia and Latin America, and the work of British artists from diverse cultural backgrounds. The book collection includes over 10,000 volumes, as well as over 200 periodical titles and over 200 zines.

Every Cook Can Govern: Documents the life, impact and works of CLR James, best known for The Black Jacobins, documenting history’s only successful slave revolt in Haiti at the turn of the 19th century.

The George Padmore Institute has many resources on Britain's black community, including the Black Power movement, and holds archives related to New Beacon Books, Britain’s first independent Black publisher.

The Institute of Race Relations have briefing papers and selected articles from ‘Race and Class’ available through their website.

The Runnymede Trust  website includes resources, briefing papers and publications.

Further information

Two works that give a good overview of black British history and include bibliographies are:

Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain by Peter Fryer

Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga

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.

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

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.

Guide to the British National Bibliography

A guide to help you use the British National Bibliography catalogue, covering: login, search, and how to manage your results

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

How to handle books

See the techniques you should use to keep our books in good shape.

How to handle rolled items

We show how you should unroll items like scrolls, rolls and maps.

Using gloves with books and manuscripts

Should you wear gloves? Here's some advice to help you decide.

Electronic resources

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

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.

Get a Reader Pass

Access over 170 million collection items for free with a Reader Pass.

Search for resources in microforms

How to search for resources in microforms

Find and request Lord Chamberlain's Plays

How to locate items in our largest single manuscript collection

How to handle folded items

Find out how you should hand items like large maps and book inserts.

Using the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC)

How to use the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC)

Guide to Explore Archives and Manuscripts

A guide to help you use the catalogue, covering: login, search, how to manage your results, how to browse the collections and how to request items

About Explore Archives and Manuscripts

With Explore Archives and Manuscripts you can search for information about our rich and unique archive and manuscript collections.