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

Graham Nattrass Lecture 2022 - ‘Wittenberg 1522’

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Under the auspices of the German Studies Library Group in association with the British Library, the fourth Graham Nattrass lecture, Wittenberg 1522: Print Culture and Soundscape of the German Reformation, will be delivered on Tuesday 20 September 2022 at the...

A Bibliographical Mystery Solved

Friday, August 5, 2022

A while ago I was alerted by a colleague to a German item in our collections that appeared to have no catalogue record. It was bound with a list of books censored by the Austrian Empire in the late 18th...

The Revolution Will Be Sexualized

Monday, May 23, 2022

John G. McCurdy is Professor of History at Eastern Michigan State University, and was a 2021 Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow at the British Library. What was it like for homosexual men in the era of the American Revolution? For the...

The Ragged School Shoe-Black Society

Thursday, May 5, 2022

The Ragged School Shoe-Black Society was established in 1851. On 31 March five boys were sent out for the first time to work in the streets of London for a fortnight’s trial. By July, 30 boys were on the books....

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.