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

Stand and deliver! Cross-dressing highwaywomen in broadside ballads

Thursday, November 12, 2020

You’ve heard of highwaymen, but what about highwaywomen? Female highway robbers definitely existed in the 17th and 18th centuries. They worked alone, as part of a gang, or with husbands. They appear in the records of county session court trials...

BL Labs Online Symposium 2020 : Book your place for Tuesday 15-Dec-2020

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Image taken from page 203 of '[Griffith's new historical description of Cheltenham and its vicinity ... with ... engravings. L.P.]' Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs The BL Labs team are pleased to announce that the eighth annual...

Frederick Cosens, a forgotten Hispanist

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Frederick William Cosens (1819-89) began his working life aged 17 when he joined the sherry firm of Pinto Pérez in London as an invoice clerk. It was the start of a highly successful business career. In 1848, he set up...

In our Hebrew Manuscripts exhibition, "Tsurat ha-arets" by Abraham bar Hiyya

Thursday, October 22, 2020

A page from "Tsurat ha-arets" Our Hebrew manuscripts exhibition continues until next year. You might not expect it to have a whole section on science, the prize of which is the manuscript numbered Or 10721, a copy of Tsurat ha-arets...

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.