Datasets about our collections

Chinese Card Catalogue Drawer
© Jon Ellis

The Library’s vast catalogue and holdings information is as much a rich data source for research as the individual items they describe.

About the collection

Bibliographic and other metadata about our collections when viewed at scale can provide great insight into the shifting trends of publication, emergence and fluctuation of social attitudes and taste, and even how research focuses have changed over time.

A range of comprehensive resources which can support your digital research can be accessed online or onsite at the British Library, St Pancras, including catalogues, metadata, archives and other records.

Please contact digitalresearch@bl.uk to discuss your research needs in depth. For standard metadata services please contact metadata@bl.uk.

What is available online?

data.bl.uk (beta): As part of its work to open its data to wider use, the British Library is making copies of some of its collection related datasets available for research and creative purposes. We aim to describe collections in terms of their data format (images, full text, metadata, etc), licences, temporal and geographic scope, originating purpose (e.g. specific digitisation projects or exhibitions) and collection, and related subjects or themes. This site is a 'beta', and is in the early stages of development.

British Library Collection Metadata: provides a range of services for researchers requiring bibliographic information for research at scale. This includes providing access in a variety of ways to the British National Bibliography (BNB) which has recorded the publishing activity of the United Kingdom and the Republic since 1950 and as such is the single most comprehensive listing of UK books and serials titles. 

Electronic Theses Online (EThOS): provides online access to UK doctoral theses dating as far back as the 19th century via a single web interface. Anyone may access the metadata relating to each thesis free of charge without prior permission for not-for-profit purposes.


What is available in our Reading Rooms?

Should you wish to view the original materials which these records describe, visit any one of the British Library’s 11 Reading Rooms at St Pancras where the Reference team will be happy to help you. 

How to guides

Initiate a new digitisation project with the British Library

Contact us if you want to start an externally funded project

Get a Reader Pass

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

How to use the Georeferencer

Add points to old maps with our addictive tool.

Using the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC)

How to use the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC)

Find Hebrew manuscripts

Guide to finding Hebrew manuscripts in our online catalogues

How to reuse images of unpublished manuscripts

Guide to the copyright of unpublished documents

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?

Access manuscripts and archives

Accessing manuscripts and archives and obtaining a Letter of introduction or recommendation

How to order images

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