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

My AHRC-RLUK Professional Practice Fellowship: Four months on

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

In August 2022 I started work on a project to investigate the legacies of curatorial voice in the descriptions of incunabula collections at the British Library and their future reuse. My research is funded by the collaborative AHRC-RLUK Professional Practice...

‘Dear old Squirrel’ - Cyril Davenport of the British Museum

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Cyril Davenport, pictured below in his 80s, does not appear to be as careworn as his life and career should demand! Not only did he devote 45 years to work at the British Museum Library, he also found time to...

A lift-the-flap book, 18th century style

Thursday, October 20, 2022

If you thought children’s lift-the-flap books were a modern phenomenon, think again! We recently acquired Mother Shipton: an exceptionally rare and early lift-the-flap book, with hand-coloured illustrations and a publication date of 1771. This type of book is known as...

Verhandelingen: a rare 1816 issue of a periodical printed in Java

Monday, October 17, 2022

The Bataviaasch Genootschap van Kunsten en Wetenschappen, or Batavian Society of Arts and Sciences, was established in Batavia in 1778. Founded by the botanist Jacob Radermacher, the Bataviaasch Genootschap is the oldest learned society in Asia founded by Europeans. After...

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.

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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.