Our vast collection of printed heritage encompasses materials from Britain, Europe and the wider world produced predominantly from the mid-15th century through to the 21st century. The collections cover a range of formats, including books, pamphlets, periodicals, early newspapers, handbills and advertisements.

Collection guides

Rare Books and Music Reading Room in the British Library

Rare Books and Music

  • Find information on the shelves
  • Access online databases and electronic books and journals
  • Order collection items to the Reading Room via our catalogues

If you need help, please ask our Reference Specialists at the enquiry desk, or contact the Rare Books Reference Team or Music Reference Team.

We offer free Discovery and 1-2-1 Sessions to help you make the best use of the Library's collections.

You’ll need a Reader Pass

Mon 10.00 – 20.00
Tue – Thu 09.30 – 20.00
Fri – Sat 09.30 – 17.00
Sun & English Public Holidays closed

Opening hours for all Reading Rooms

Blog posts

A long-lived Spanish book and a short-lived English king

Friday, October 12, 2018

Title-page of Pedro Mexia, Silva de varia lection ... (Valladolid, 1551) C.20.e.15. John Gough Nichols in his Literary Remains of King Edward VI (London, 1857; C.101.c.2.) gives a small ‘catalogue of such of the books in the Royal Library now...

Hungary Water for Missionaries?

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

In November 1764 the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge wrote to the Court of Directors of the East India Company for permission to send a number of ‘sundry items’ out to their missionaries in India on the ships sailing that...

Strange fish: A distant cousin of the Beluga whale in the River Thames

Monday, October 1, 2018

We have always been both fascinated and saddened by whales finding their way into rivers or being stranded on strange beaches. The beluga whale in the Thames near Gravesend last week is the latest in a long line of chronicled...

William Blake’s Grave

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Bunhill Fields Burial Grounds are the final resting place for around 120,000 people including Daniel Defoe, John Bunyan, Susanna Wesley, and William Blake. Previously, Blake’s precise location in the cemetery was unknown but thanks to Carol and Luis Garrido’s...

More blog posts

Projects

Two Centuries of Indian Print

An international collaboration to digitise South Asian printed books

Transforming Topography

This project aims to transform perceptions of topographical imagery.

King’s Topographical Collection Cataloguing and Digitisation

This project is cataloguing and digitising George III’s collection of around 30–40,000 maps and views.

All projects

Library experts

Adrian Edwards

Head, Printed Heritage Collections

Alison Bailey

Lead Curator, Printed Heritage Collections 1901-2000

Dr Karen Limper-Herz

Lead Curator, Incunabula and Sixteenth Century Printed Books

Tanya Kirk

Lead Curator, Printed Heritage Collections 1601-1900

More staff members

Shop

Beautiful Bookbindings Philippa Marks

Beautiful Bookbindings

This book by Philippa Marks celebrates over 100 of the most beautiful bookbindings of the last 1000 years.

£30.00

A History of the Book in 100 Books (hardback)

From inscriptions on tombs to the first writings on papyrus; from scrolls to the first bound codex books in Roman times.

£20

Bookscape by James Raven

Bookscape

James Raven reconstructs the communities of printers in London before 1800 using a range of new illustrative and topographical evidence.