This collection includes material dating from 1600 to date and reflects all aspects of modern British history
About the collection
The origins of the British Library's collection of printed books lie in the foundation of the British Museum in 1753. Books came to the collection from Sir Hans Sloane's library, The Old Royal Library and from books belonging to Major Arthur Edwards. Today there are approximately 250,000 British books printed prior to 1800 held in the collection. Holdings of 19th century printed items are estimated in excess of 1,200,000 books and pamphlets, and at least 300,000 periodical titles.
Since the late 1870s, monographs and periodicals published in the UK and Ireland have been systematically acquired by the Library through legal deposit. These items form the core of the collection, supplemented by selective purchase and donation.
The subject coverage is encyclopaedic and reflects every aspect of book production and publishing in the British Isles, Colonial America, the early United States, Canada, and other territories governed by Britain.
The collection is strong in the output of mainstream publishers, private print and the fine press. It has a good representative range of ephemeral material providing insight into the history of every aspect of the UK and Ireland and covering every historical period.
Research level publications produced in other countries, in particular North America and Western Europe, complement and strengthen this coverage.
What is available online?
Material is listed in the Library's online catalogue Explore the British Library. Fuller information about material printed before 1801, together with subject headings, can be found in the English Short Title Catalogue [ESTC].
Collection items online
Look at printed posters, newspapers, periodicals and monographs covering the rich and diverse history of Asians in Britain, from 1858 to 1950.
Our Renaissance Festival Books website provides digital access to a range of Renaissance books about festivals and ceremonies (many of them relating to royal families) across Europe between 1475 and 1700.
The Untold Lives blog includes many fascinating stories arising from items in these printed collections.
What is available in our Reading Rooms?
Printed material from this collection, and digital and microform surrogates, can be consulted in the Reading Rooms.
We also provide onsite access to a wide range of relevant subscription databases, many of which include digitised images of material from the British Library's collections. These include:
- Early English Books Online
- Eighteenth Century Collections Online
- Nineteenth Century Collections Online
- The British Newspaper Archive
- Trench Journals and Unit Magazines of the Front
Printed reference sources covering an extensive range of subjects can be found on open access shelves in all the Library's Reading Rooms.
What is available in other organisations?
Other legal deposit libraries with strong printed collections for the study of British and Irish history are:
- the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford,
- the University Library, Cambridge, and
- the Library of Trinity College, Dublin
The Institute of Historical Research provides resources for historians, including a major research library and research training.
The Directory of Rare Books and Special Collections provides information on the locations and subjects represented in rare book collections in libraries throughout the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland.
The Library's Reference Service can help you search for relevant collection items and guide you to useful entry-point reference sources.