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.
Discovering Literature: Restoration and 18th century features British writers of African origin including Ignatius Sancho, Olaudah Equiano and others. See also Crossings: African writers in the era of the transatlantic slave trade.
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.
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