Digitised printed books (16th–19th centuries) with Google Books

Digital reproduction of a page from a cheap printed book from 1689 with a simple woodcut engraving of a man reading a book with the aid of light from a candle directed through a glass,  "showing how to make a glorious Light with a candle like the Sun-shine", British Library shelfmark Digital Store 1036.c.6
Woodcut engraving, showing "how to make a glorious Light with a candle like the Sun-shine", from 'A rich cabinet, with variety of inventions ... ', (1689) British Library shelfmark 1036.c.6, digitised in collaboration with Google.

Over 600,000 volumes of out of copyright books, music and pamphlets printed from the 16th to the 19th century.

About the collection

In partnership with Google, the British Library has digitised, and made available over 600,000 volumes of out of copyright books, music and pamphlets printed between 1501 and 1877.

They cover an enormous range of subjects and languages, from early travel writing and exploration to literature in languages from Basque to Welsh, to printed music, to the invention of mechanical engines and guides to the language of flowers.

In addition to the usefulness of the texts themselves, crucial aspects, evidence and details of book history can be examined online such as annotations; marks of past ownership (inscriptions, bookplates, stamps); bindings; the uses of illustrations and diagrams; and details of historical printing practices and typography. 

What is available online?

This collection is available via the British Library’s catalogue ‘Explore the British Library’ and via the Google Books website. Almost 470,000 digitised books are now available to view and download online, anywhere in the world, via the Library’s Explore catalogue.

You can quickly link here to see an example of one of the digitised books ('A Rich Cabinet, with variety of inventions ... ...' (1689) pictured above) and see how you can find your way around the digital images of the books.
  • You can view the pages in single or double pages, or in a gallery view
  • You can survey the surrounding pages quickly as thumbnails on the left side of the screen
  • Zoom in and out of a page to closely inspect details
  • Download or print whole pages, selected parts of pages or entire texts
  • See basic bibliographic information about the item on the right side on the screen, such as title, author, place and date of publication and its unique collection shelfmark
  • You can easily click 'Feedback' to tell us about finding or discovering the item; viewing the item; or tell us something about the item or content itself
  • Use the 'Feedback' button also to send a comment, compliment, complaint or correction about an item

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

The original physical items from which these digital copies derive can still be requested and consulted in the British Library's Rare Books & Music Reading Room at St Pancras. Specialist advice from the ReferenceTeam is available to help you plan your visit in advance and provide assistance in the Reading Room. You will need to register for a Readers Pass to request collection items and use the Library's Reading Rooms.

What is available in other organisations?

Many libraries around the world have partnered with Google to digitise parts of their printed collection items. They can be found on their Google Books index of full-text books.

Further information

The British Library also offers access to over 60,000 volumes of out of copyright 18th & 19th-century printed books digitised in partnership with Microsoft. Both these and Google Books digitised content can be found on Explore the British Library by refining the 'Access Options' in any Search Results List to 'Online'.