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

Crusoe embossed

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Robinson Crusoe was published 300 years ago on 25 April 1719. Daniel Defoe’s account of a shipwrecked English sailor cast away on an uninhabited tropical island for 28 years has universal appeal because it is so believable. Defoe effectively put...

English Recusants in Portugal, 1638

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

A recent acquisition recalls the dark times of the religious conflicts of the 17th century. Thomás Aranha, Sermão que pregou o Muito Reverendo Padre Presentado Frey Thomas Aranha da Ordem dos Prégadores, Lente de Theologia no Real Collegio de S....

América Latina: Artists’ Books at the British Library

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

In early February the British Library held its third hugely successful Artists’ Books Now event: América Latina. The evening brought together artists, collectors, academics and curators to consider the multiple dynamics at work in the creation of Latin American artists’...

Felix Slade and his bindings bequest

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Felix Slade (1788-1868) was a lawyer, philanthropist and collector. Born in Lambeth, he was the youngest of four sons and yet inherited his father’s estate. He never married, instead devoting himself to the law and to collecting antiquities, fine bindings,...

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

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 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.