Guide to the British National Bibliography

Magnifying glass on computer

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

With the British National Bibliography you can search:

  • books and journal titles published or distributed in the United Kingdom and Ireland since 1950, including electronic publications
  • Cataloguing-in-Publication (CIP) information for forthcoming book titles

This guide covers:

Browser requirements

The British National Bibliography requires that your browser is:

  • enabled for JavaScript 
  • has cookies enabled
  • has the Pop-up blocker disabled.

Log in

You do not need to log in to search the catalogue. You need only log in if you are a Reader or customer of our On Demand document supply service who wants to: 

  • save your searches to re-use them in a future session 
  • save items added to your workspace.

Unless you log in searches and/or saved records will be available only for your current session.

Change password or edit account details

Use My Account, to change your password, or edit your account details:

  • enter your Username and Password; if we issued you with a temporary password, enter it here
  • click Log in to see your account details
  • click Change, or Manage Addresses, as appropriate
  • enter your new details and confirm details where requested
  • click Save
  • click Log out to finish.

Search tips

How to enter search terms

You can combine elements in the Simple search, for example, surname and significant word from the title, e.g.:

Austen Pride Prejudice

There is no need to include AND as this is assumed.

If you want to narrow your search down, use NOT and OR (enter these in capital letters), e.g.:

Pride NOT prejudice
Pride OR prejudice
Shakespeare (tragedy OR sonnet)

NB: Use lower case letters for your search terms and uppercase for (AND, OR, NOT).
If you use upper case, e.g ORANGES ARE NOT THE ONLY FRUIT the catalolgue will search for (oranges AND are) NOT (the AND only AND fruit)

To search for a phrase, enclose your search terms in quotation marks, for example:

“pride and prejudice”
“global warming”

NB: Use phrase searching to search for one word titles prefixed with ‘the’, e.g. “the Lancet”. 

You can use wildcards to replace one or more characters:

Use ? to replace one character, e.g. wom?n will search for woman and women
Use * to replace more than one character, e.g. cultur* will search for culture, cultural and culturally

To search for an ISBN enter the number without hyphens.

To search for an ISSN enter the number with the hyphen. 

NB: Use the Advanced search indexes with care, not all records will have been assigned e.g. a Subject. 

How to search for people’s names

You can enter them in any order:

  • first name last name
  • last name first name

You can enter them with or without commas separating the names:

  • Henry James
  • James Henry
  • James, Henry.

Note that the results of this type of search will include items about Henry James as well as items by Henry James. To select the subset of items by Henry James, Refine your results by the author’s name.

To restrict your search to items by an author, carry out an Advanced search and choose Author and ‘contains’ from the drop-down menu. If the name is a common one you may still need to Refine your results by the author's name.

Although punctuation and the order of terms have no effect on the number of results retrieved spacing between initials does affect the results seen. A search for ‘Stubbes, EH’ or ‘E.H. Stubbes’ will find a smaller set of results than a search for ‘Stubbes, E H’, or ‘E. H. Stubbes’.

Advanced search

Use the Advanced search indexes with care as not all records will have been assigned e.g. a Subject index or e.g. a Place Name.

Some specific index searches are 'sticky' which means subsequent searches are restricted by the index previously selected. This will affect the results found. The Author / Contributr index is 'sticky'.  For example, you may click an author / contributor link in the 'Details' tab of a record, to search for other items by that author/contributor. Thereafter, all subsequent searches will have the same author / contributor index applied.

To clear the index, click 'BNB Home', on the navigation bar, before you carry out another search.

How to search for items published in a specific year or range of years

You can use a wildcard to search for a decade or century. To search for items published between:

  • 1960 and 1969 enter 196?
  • 1900 and 1999 enter 19??

To search for items published between a range of years spanning more than a decade, search for each decade within the range and combine each decade with OR. For example, to search for items published between 1960 and 1989 enter:

196? OR 197? OR 198?

OR must be entered in upper case.

How to search for Newspaper editions

Use Advanced search to restrict a search to a specific newspaper edition. Combine the name of the newspaper with the name of the edition:

  • use the ‘Place Name’ index for the edition
  • restrict by ‘Material type’ Newspapers.

Managing your results

You may not see the record you want because the catalogue groups related works. The 'X related resources' link denotes grouped items in your results list. The record for the item you want may only be visible if you click the 'related resources' link.


You may not see the record you want because your search finds lots of results. You can Refine your results to reduce the number of records. There are a number of Refine options available.

Note that the Refine options displayed are generated by the records found as a result of your search. Different options will display for different search terms.

The first five terms - usually those with the most items - in each refinement are displayed. You may have the option to expand the list for each one. Or you can select, or exclude, more than one term with ‘Refine further’.

How your results are sorted

The catalogue sorts results by relevance but you can change the sort. The options available are:

  • Date-newest
  • Date-oldest
  • Title
  • Author

All sorts are ‘sticky’; if you chose to re-sort your results by title, for example, when you carry out your next search these results will also be sorted by title. To clear the index, click 'Explore Home'.

The catalogue groups together related items; if you sort by date-newest and date-oldest you may find only one of the grouped items is sorted correctly.

How to print/save/email records

Having found the item you are interested in:

  • click on the 'Details' tab
  • click 'Actions' in the top right-hand corner of the tab
  • click either E-mail/Print or one of the Social bookmarking sites to save the record.

You can also email/print/save records from My Workspace. My workspace allows you to email/print/save more than one record at a time.

How to save searches

All the searches you make in a session are temporarily stored in My workspace; when you finish your session these searches will be deleted.

If you are a Reader or On Demand customer, you can choose to save your searches; you must log in to save searches.

Click the ‘save search’ link below the list of Refine options to the left of your results. Give your search a name and choose whether to ‘Save’ your search or ‘Save & alert’.

Choose ‘Save & alert’ to receive email updates when new items meeting your search criteria are added to the catalogue. If you choose ‘Save & alert’ you will need to supply an email address, unless you have previously stored this in ‘Personal settings’.

Your search/alert is saved into the 'Saved searches' folder in My workspace. Click on:

  • the search name to execute the search again
  • delete to remove the search from your workspace
  • update to update a saved search to an alert.

How to see how many copies/what years of an item we hold

You can see brief details of our holdings in the 'Holdings Notes' in the Details tab. We may hold more than one copy of an item, in different collections.

To see more detailed information, click the 'Item holdings' link on the right of the 'Details' tab. Then click either the 'Details link or the specific year you are interested in, where these links are available.

Using My workspace

With My workspace you can:

  • edit your personal settings
  • keep records of items of interest
  • store records of interest in different folders
  • email/print records you have stored
  • re- run earlier searches in your current session
  • re-run saved searches or alerts.

If you are logged in, records are stored in your workspace until you delete them. Otherwise records are stored until you end your session.

Important information on retaining records in folders

Readers should note that when your Reader Pass expires any information saved in your workspace is automatically deleted. There is no means of reinstating this information. If you have records in your workspace that you wish to keep, you should renew your pass before it expires.

How to order/view items

Most of the items listed in the British National Bibliography  are received by the British Library via legal deposit and may be consulted in the Reading Rooms in London. To order an item search for the record in Explore the British Library where you will see the order/view options available to you.