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

Desks and Readers in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room at 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 a range of free Reader sessions and 1-2-1 consultations 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

Elizabeth Polwhele’s taste in reading

Thursday, December 9, 2021

A recent acquisition at the British Library may potentially provide more information about the reading taste of the playwright, Elizabeth Polwhele (c. 1651-1691). We believe we now have a book owned by Polwhele. The first edition of Hannah Woolley's The...

Two Centuries of Indian Print: South Asia Seminar Series at the British Library 2016-2021

Monday, December 6, 2021

The ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’ Project has successfully digitised rare and unique books from the British Library’s South Asian collections dating from 1713-1914. Launched in late 2015, the project was funded by the AHRC Newton-Bhabha Fund and the Department...

Robert Dudley's bindings: ‘A bear muzzled and chained’

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (1532-88), is best known today as Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite. He had been a close friend of the Queen from a young age and remained so until his death in 1588. He was referred to...

From Turning the Pages to Virtual Books

Monday, October 18, 2021

"Garden cucumber" from Blackwell's Herbal, British Library 34.I.12 -13 Some of our earliest high-quality digitised manuscripts and printed books are now available again through our website for anybody to read. They were digitised from the mid-1990s on, using the "Turning...

More blog posts

Projects

English Short Title Catalogue

A comprehensive, international union catalogue listing early books, serials, newspapers and selected ephemera printed before 1801.

Sloane Printed Books Catalogue

A project to identify the dispersed printed books from Sir Hans Sloane's Library

King’s Topographical Collection Cataloguing and Digitisation

This project catalogued and digitised George III’s collection of around 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

Case studies

More Case studies
…I am incredibly lucky to be working within an institution that encourages self-reflection.…

Researching Hans Sloane’s books, one of the foundation collections of the British Library.

…I wanted to find Victorian jokes and bring them back to life…

Dr Bob Nicholson used digitised 19th-century books and newspapers to bring Victorian jokes back to life.

Shop

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

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