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

One of the very best Danish bookplate artists: two recent Ebba Holm acquisitions

Thursday, December 26, 2019

According to Otto Wang, author of niche publications in defence of the reputation of Danish ex-libris, and writing in 1927, no one had received more praise for their bookplate artistry than Ebba Holm. A painter, engraver and illustrator, Holm became...

Is it better to give or to receive?

Monday, December 23, 2019

Everybody needs a patron, nobody more than the medieval or early modern author. Erasmus dedicated one work to four successive patrons (Carlson 85; also 45). The assumption was that the patron would respond with a payment, sometimes delivered on the...

A Christmas entertainment

Monday, December 23, 2019

I was browsing the British Library catalogue for appropriate collection items to share on the blog over Christmas. When I came across a play called The Christmas Ordinary published in 1682, I decided to investigate. Title page of The Christmas...

Ceremonial greetings in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Gratulationes Serenissimo ac Potentissimo Principi Sigismundo III… published in Vilnius in 1589 is the oldest book in the British Library’s holdings which includes text in the Lithuanian language. It came to the Library as part of Sir Hans Sloane’s collection...

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 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

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.