French printed collections

Arc de Triomphe
Arc de Triomphe from Paris et les parisiens au XIX siècle (Paris: Morizot, 1856)

Our collections of French printed material includes rare early printed material, books, journals, maps and music.

About the collection

Highlights of the French printed collections include:

  • the ‘Recueil de farces du British Museum’ in 64 volumes
  • the Mazarinades Collection (about  5,000 pamphlets relating to the Fronde ,1648-1653)
  • two sets of Diderot’s Encyclopédie
  • a collection of 50,000 French Revolutionary Tracts (books, pamphlets and serials published between 1780 and 1820)
  • a collection relating to Jean-Paul Marat.

The collection includes hundreds of volumes in the regional languages of France. We also hold a collection of newspapers and ephemera from the 1848 Revolution, collections of caricatures from the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune (1870-1871), and of posters and ephemera from the First World War.

We continue to acquire contemporary material in French in most subjects in the humanities and social sciences. It is a feature of the British Library’s collecting policy that it offers simultaneous access to material in English, French and other languages.

What is available online?

As a result of mass digitisation projects, in particular the ongoing British Library Google Books digitisation project, access to a growing number of French out-of-copyright digitised books is available free of charge. To find them search Explore the British Library and then refine your result list by Access Options: Online.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

The British Library's online catalogue, Explore the British Library, can be used to search for French printed material and order it to a Reading Room.

Most post-1850 French printed materials can be ordered to any Reading Room, usually within 70 minutes, although much of our more recent material is held at our Boston Spa site in Yorkshire and may take up to 48 hours to arrive.

Pre-1850 materials can be consulted in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room, while newspapers, maps and manuscripts are available in their own respective Reading Rooms. All the reading rooms have some reference works on the open-access shelves, including bibliographies, catalogues, dictionaries and general reference works.

A number of key electronic databases for French Studies are also available at the British Library. For licensing reasons, most of these may be accessed only from the Library’s reading rooms. Resources include Cairn.Info, Frantext, the Encyclopédie de Diderot and D’Alembert, Electronic Enlightenment, and the MLA. Staff are available to offer bibliographic and other basic research assistance.

How to guides

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?

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 the British National Bibliography

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

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 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.

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 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

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)