Local studies libraries in the British Isles

White Horse Close, Edinburgh, 1867 (Edinburgh Central Library)Many public libraries have local studies sections. They contain maps and published works on the area, local street directories, and usually archives of local newspapers.

They may also have collections of local photographs, prints, postcards, trade cards and other ephemera, some perhaps mounted in the scrap books or grangerised volumes popular in the 19th century. Some libraries have had donated to them in the past material which today would be more likely to find its way into a record office or art gallery: estate papers, deeds, letters, manuscript journals, or water-colours. (In some places local records and library are run jointly.) Increasingly catalogues of such local collections are appearing online. Those which include image databases are listed under image finding aids. Where material from local studies libraries is included in a combined online catalogue with material from museums and other repositories, see the combined catalogues or databases listed under museums.

Most local studies libraries cover the town in which the library lies. The library of a county town often covers the whole county. A few local studies libraries have a wider range: see specific libraries. Collections of interest for local history may also be held by university libraries and national libraries, as well as local and national archives. See the introduction to archives for ways of locating material.


Local newspapers are a valuable resource for building research. They often carry advertisements for buildings to let and for sale, some of which include the information that the building is newly erected, or recently refurbished. They also carry advertisements for specific businesses with an address, including shops, lodging houses, inns and hotels. In the past much of this material was impossible to locate without a lengthy and time-consuming search, for few local newspapers had been completely indexed, though some local libraries maintain a card index of a local newspaper and/or files of cuttings collected by subject. However the new trend is for newspapers to be digitised and made available online, where they can be searched directly, which has made a wealth of material far more accessible to researchers.

Online newspaper archives and indexes:

Combined databases

Local press

National press

Guides to locations of newspaper archives:

Specific libraries

Locations of legal deposit libraries, public libraries, special libraries, archives and local studies libraries in the UK and Republic of Ireland, with brief descriptions of their collections, can be found in Ian Walker (ed.), Libraries Directory, 50th edition (2009). For websites see UK Public Libraries on the Web. Local studies libraries with particularly notablecollections, covering a wider geographical area than town, city or county, include:

Belfast Central Library, Royal Avenue, Belfast, County Antrim BT1 1EA, Northern Ireland

Has a collection of rare books, manuscripts and archives relating to Irish history, including a collection of over 400 early Irish maps dating from the sixteenth century to the early nineteenth century, as well as OS maps from the 1830s onwards.

Birmingham Central Library, Chamberlain Square, Birmingham B3 3HQ

This huge library holds a large local collection for Birmingham and the Midlands, including newspapers, trade directories, guide books and works on local history. It also holds the archive of Birmingham City Council and the earlier Borough Council, together with many deposited papers such as parochial registers, estate papers, legal papers, deeds, manorial records, records of clubs, societies and charities, personal papers, letters and diaries, maps and plans, drawings and watercolours, prints and engravings, photographic collections, and oral history recordings in The Wolfson Centre for Archival Research. There is an online catalogue to the archive. The Warwickshire Photographic Survey contains over 20,000 photographs, which are in the process of digitisation. An index to local newspapers from January 1998 is available on computers in all Birmingham libraries. There is no index to earlier newspapers, but there are cuttings in Local Studies for certain topics. (Birmingham newspapers are included in the online The British Newspaper Archive.)

Common Seal of London, showing St Paul as patron of the city (Corporation of London Records Office)

The Guildhall Library, Aldermanbury, London EC2P 2J

This is the official repository for historical records relating to the City of London (except those of the Corporation of London itself which are in the Corporation of London Records Office). The holdings include archives of most of the City's parishes, wards and livery companies, and of many individuals, families, estates, businesses, schools, societies and other institutions, notably the Diocese of London and St. Paul's Cathedral. The Collage image database containing 20,000 items from the Guildhall Library and Guildhall Art Gallery can be searched online.

The Linen Hall Library,17 Donegall Square, North Belfast BT1 5GB, Northern Ireland

An independent library, run as a charitable body, it boasts an unparalleled Irish and Local Studies Collection, notable for early Belfast and Ulster printed books and newspapers. It also holds the archives of the Belfast Charitable Society and Belfast Trades Council.

The Mitchell Library, North Street, Glasgow G3 7DN

Combines the functions of a huge public library with a local archive collection. Among its special collections are plans and drawings by Scottish architect Alexander 'Greek' Thomson. Their photograph collection is online at the Virtual Mitchell.

The West Country Studies Library, Castle St., Exeter EX4 3Q

Has a collection covering Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset. The library has several useful place-name catalogues and indexes, including an index to the Exeter Flying Post 1763-1885. (This newspaper is also among those digitised by The British Newspaper Archive). Etched on Devon's memory is an online, illustrated catalogue of topographical engravings of Devon. Also provides an online Historic Devon gazetteer, with information on each parish, including references to the sheet numbers of major map series, historic images, and extracts from W.G.Hoskins, Devon (1954).

The Scottish Library, Central Library, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1EG, Scotland

The collection includesbooks, maps, newspapers, videos, photographs, postcards, prints, periodicals, acts of Parliament, and online databases.

The widest-ranging collections are those of the national libraries and other major collections, which are listed under England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.