Home > Europa > Grossbritannien >  London  

Science Museum Library

Address. Imperial College Road, South Kensington, London SW7 5NH
Telephone. (020) 7942-4242 or 7938-8234
Fax. (020) 7942-4243 or 7938-9714
e-mail. [smlinfo@nmsi.ac.uk]
Internet. http://www.nmsi.ac.uk/library/index.html

Governing body or responsible institution. The Science Museum, The National Museum of Science and Industry
Function. Research library.
Subjects. History and biography of science, technology and medicine; Public understanding of science; Science policy; Museology.

Access. Open to the public for reference 9.30 a.m. - 5.30 p.m. Extended evening hours to 9 p.m., with limited services, during Imperial College term time. World wide mail-order photocopy and information service.
Special facilities. Photocopying (including colour), microform reader-printer, public access CD-ROM service. Photography by arrangement with Science Museum's Science and Society Picture Library.
Travel directions. Nearest underground station: South Kensington. Near several bus routes.


1.1 The library was founded in 1883 as the Science Library of the South Kensington Museum (now, in part, the Victoria & Albert Museum). It was based upon two earlier libraries. The first, the Library of the Museum of Practical Geology, included many fine examples of early exploration, and complete runs of proceedings of the major scientific societies and engineering institutions. The other larger founding collection was that of scientific books from an educational collection and included a significant number of scientific books. One notable example was Otto von Guericke's Experimenta nova de vacuo spatio (Amsterdam 1672).

1.2 In 1909 science and decorative arts collections formally separated to become the Science Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum. During the 1920s the library's holdings increased substantially and by 1933 it had virtually become the national library for science and technology. Its stock of nearly a quarter of a million included 9,000 periodical titles. By 1939 the library had the largest collection of scientific periodicals in Europe. During the War it stayed open and its use increased markedly. Unlike other major libraries in London it escaped being bombed.

1.3 During the 1950s the library's historical collections were considerably strengthened and a programme of purchasing antiquarian scientific books was implemented which formed the core of three historic book exhibitions on alchemy, machines and astronomy. Notable works which were purchased during this period include Galileo's Sidereus nuncius (Frankfurt 1610) and Hieronymus Braunschweig's Liber de arte distillandi compositis (Strasbourg 1512).

1.4 The establishment of the National Lending Library in Boston Spa in 1962 enabled the Science Museum Library to concentrate on its local users: the Museum, the public, and staff and students of Imperial College. It still acted as a back-up for interlending, but that aside, it could develop to its specialisation in the history of science and technology. There were, however, space problems and in 1969 the Library moved to its present location. During the 1970s an Archives collection was established in the library.

1.5 From 1978 to 1980 Sotheby's sold a significant personal collection of antiquarian scientific books, the Honeyman Collection (Robert Brodhead Honeyman). The library made extensive purchases from these sales filling in many gaps in the collection. German examples include Johannes Kepler's Harmonices mundi (Linz 1619); and, a signed copy of Albert Einstein's Über die spezielle und allgemeine Relativitätstheorie (1917). Two further collections which were added to stock in the 1980s were the Penn-Gaskell Collection of aeronautica and the Watt Collection, the personal library of James Watt (see below 2.11 and 2.12).

1.6 The 1980s also saw the collections policy widen to include the history of medicine. This arose when the Wellcome Museum for the History of Medicine was transferred on permanent loan to the Science Museum (see Handbuch-entry for the Wellcome Library 1.8). The library continues to collect histories of medicine to support Science Museum curators and the teaching of the subject in Imperial College. In 1987 the coverage of veterinary history expanded considerably by the purchase of a major collection in this field, the Comben Collection (Norman Comben, see below 2.13).

1.7 The 1990s have seen a major change in the library's direction. It now shares collections and services with the central library of Imperial College of Science Technology and Medicine. This has involved much building work and moving, integrating, and reorganising of collections. The library's collecting policy has also expanded to include the public understanding of science. In 1993 the Science Museum Library's (SML) computer catalogue was merged with the College's Libertas computer catalogue. This system has been replaced in 1999 by a Unicorn catalogue with web access. The SML, however, remains a separate entity with its own budget, management and staff. Its collections are of international importance and researchers from around the world continue to benefit from its resources. New services are being provided to meet the challenges of technological change. In 1995 the library launched its World Wide Web pages, as part of the Science Museum site. The specialist services of the library are now provided in the Science and Technology Studies Collection on Level 3 of the building, where Science Museum Library staff continue to serve the needs of the Science Museum, Imperial College, the international scholarly community and the general public.


Chronological outline and analysis by language

2.1 Subjects covered include not only the main branches of science, mathematics, engineering and medicine, but also natural history, the social and economic aspects of industrialisation, scientific exploration, geography and history.

2.2 In total there are some 600,000 books, period- icals, maps and microforms. There are 300,000 books and periodicals from the 19th and early 20th centuries, and 7,500 vols published before 1800. Of these 451 books date from before 1641. These include 5 incunables. The language breakdown of the pre-1641 books can be ascertained from a printed list. 149 books (approximately a third of the total) were published in what is now Germany, 17 in Switzerland, and 6 in Austria. The great majority of these works was published in Latin. Approximately 7,050 vols date from 1641 until 1800. Books published between 1801 and 1914 amount to some 21,000 titles, of which about 19,000 cover all fields of physical sciences and technology and 2,000 are life sciences. It is not yet possible to give an accurate breakdown of language for this later material, although it is certain that the proportions of languages differ between subject areas.

Subject outline

2.3 The strengths of the pre-1641 works lie in astronomy, chemistry and alchemy, horology, mathematics, mining and metallurgy, natural history, machines, mechanics, optics and surveying. One of the oldest books is the Compilatio ...de astrorum scientia decem continens tractatus (Augsburg 1489) by Leopold, Duke of Austria. Other examples in astronomy to be noted are Petrus Apianus, Quadrans ...astronomicus (Ingolstadt 1532); Nicolaus Copernicus, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium libri VI (Nuremberg 1543 and Basel 1566); Nicolaus Rensberger, Astronomia teutsch (Augsburg 1569); Apelles [i.e. Christopher Scheiner], De maculis in sole animadversis ...dissertatiuncula; and Johannes Kepler, Tabulae Rudolphinae (Ulm 1627).

2.4 Some prominent examples in the field of chemistry and alchemy are Petrus Kärtzenmacher, Alchimia (Strasbourg 1538); Andreas Libavius, Alchymia (Frankfurt a. M. 1597); Herbrandt Jamsthaler, Viatorum spagyricum (Frankfurt a. M. 1625); Johann Joachim Becher, Experimentum chymicum novum (Frankfurt a. M. 1671) or Johann Kunkel, Chymische Anmerkungen (Wittenberg 1677). The 18th and 19th centuries are represented by Georg Ernst Stahl, Fundamenta chymiae dogmaticae & experimentalis (Nuremberg 1723); Basilius Valentinus, Chymische Schriften (Hamburg 1740; first published 1677); Johann Conrad Creiling, Abhandlung vom Goldenen Vliess (Tübingen 1787); or by Ferdinand Friedrich Runge, Grundlehren der Chemie für Jedermann (Berlin 1843, complete with 82 pigment samples).

2.5 Another important field is mathematics. In addition to early editions of Euclid (Basel 1522) and Archimedes (Basel 1544) the following examples should be noted: Johann Müller, i.e. Regiomontanus, De triangulis omnimodis libri quinque (Nuremberg 1533); Bartholomaeus Pitiscus, Trigonometriae sive de dimensione triangulor. libri quinque (Augsburg 1600); Georgius Joachimus, Rhaeticus, Thesaurus mathematicus sive canon sinuum (Frankfurt a. M. 1613); or Carl Friedrich Gauss, Disquisitiones arithmeticae (Leipzig 1801).

2.6 The library holds a number of prominent titles in the field of mining, mineralogy and metallurgy, such as Georgius Agricola, De re metallica (Basel 1556); Christoph Entzelt, De re metallica (Frankfurt a. M. 1557); Lazarus Ercker, Beschreibung allerfürnemsten mineralischen Ertzt und Bergwercksarten (Frankfurt a. M. 1580); Wenceslaus VI, King of Bohemia, Ein new sehr nützlich Königlich Bergbuch (Leipzig 1616; or Nicolaus Voigtel, Geometria subterranea, oder Marckscheide-Kunst (Eisleben 1686).

2.7 Natural history and medicine, too, are well represented, starting with Pliny, Historia mundi denuo emendata (Basel 1535); Andreas Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica (Basel 1543) and Conrad Gesner, Historiae animalium libri I-V (Zürich 1551-1587). The 17th century is represented by Joannes Ludovicus Gans, Coralliorum historia (Frankfurt a. M. 1630). Engineering including shipbuilding is another notable feature of the library, e.g. Lilius Gregorius Giraldus, De re nautica libellus (Basel 1540); Salomon de Caus, Von gewaltsamen Bewegungen, Beschreibung etlicher ...Maschiner ... (Frankfurt a. M. 1615) or Joseph Furtenbach, Architectura naualis (Ulm 1629).

2.8 Of particular note are books relating to optics and surveying, e.g. Hasan ibn Hasan, called Ibn al-Haithan, Opticae thesaurus (Basel 1572), edited by Fridericus Risnerus; Jacob Köbel, Geometrey von künstlichen Feldtmessen (Frankfurt a. M. 1598); Phillip Eberhardt and Leonard Zubler, Kurtzer und gruntlicher Bericht von dem neüwen geometrischen Instrument oder Triangel (Zürich 1602); Levinus Hulsius, Tractatus ... Instrumentorum mechanicorum (Frankfurt a. M. 1605); Leonhard Zubler, Novum instrumentum geometricum (Basel 1607); or Johann Faulhaber, Newerfundener Gebrauch eines Niederländischen Instruments (Augsburg 1610).

2.9 Included in the library's extensive holdings are numerous transactions of scientific societies, e.g. Kaiserliche Leopoldino-Carolinische Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher (Schweinfurt et al.), Berlinische Gesellschaft Naturforschender Freunde, the Societas Regiae Scientarium (Berlin) and its successors, e.g. Königliche Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften (Berlin) or Königlich-Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften (Munich). To these may be added a number of other journals, e.g. Acta eruditorum (Leipzig 1682-1731); Nova acta eruditorum (Leipzig 1732-1742); Acta Helvetica, physico-mathematico-botanico-medico (Basel 1751-1767); or Der Naturforscher (Halle 1774-1804).

2.10 There are also substantial holdings of trade literature and a fine collection of international exhibition literature. This includes catalogues, guides and reports from the Allgemeine Deutsche Ausstellung, Berlin, 1882-1883; the Elektrotechnische Ausstellung in Frankfurt a. M., 1891; and the Weltausstellung 1872, Wien. There are also German catalogues and guides to the exhibitions held at London in 1862; in Chicago in 1893; and in Paris 1855, 1867, 1878 and 1900.

Special Collections

2.11 The Penn-Gaskell Collection given by Winifred Penn-Gaskell (d. 1950) included a huge range of aeronautica including several albums of stamps (now in the Science Museum) and many significant books, including Beschreibung der Versuche mit den aerostatischen Maschinen der Herren von Montgolfier by Faujas de St. Fond (Leipzig 1784). These have been assimilated into the main collection.

2.12 The Watt Collection remains a separate entity and was the personal library of James Watt (1736-1819). This wide-ranging collection has works on medicine and literature as well as science and technology and includes 9 monographs in German, e.g. Ignaz von Born, Ueber das Anquicken der gold- und silberhältigen Erze, Rohsteine, Schwarzkupfer und Hüttenspeise (Vienna 1786), and a periodical, Mineralogische Belustigungen: zum Behuf der Chymie und Naturgeschichte des Mineralreichs (Leipzig 1768-1770).

2.13 The Comben Collection (see above 1.6) comprises some 900 printed books and pamphlets from the 16th to 20th centuries, four fifths of them predating 1850. Most of the collection is in English, Latin or French, with only three titles in German. One example is Bernhard Laubender's Das ganze der Rindviehpest ... (Leipzig 1801).


3.1 Modern catalogues

Card catalogue

[closed in 1983; personal and corporate author; UDC subject]


[Libertas (1993-1999); Unicorn (1999-). Available via library web pages: http://www.nmsi.ac.uk/library/


Retrospective conversion: all biographies, but no further retrospective conversion has taken place yet.

The incunables are recorded in the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue.

Modern printed catalogues:

A catalogue of books printed before 1641 in the Science Museum Library, compiled by Judit Brody; subject index compiled by Judith Field and Judit Brody. [London]: Science Museum, 1979. Supplement 1982

Historic books on veterinary science and animal husbandry. The Comben Collection in the Science Museum Library. [Compiled by] Pauline Dingley. London 1992

3.2 Historic catalogues

Catalogue of the Science Library in the South Kensington Museum. London 1891

[subject arrangement, then by language]

Supplement to the Catalogue of the Science Library in South Kensington Museum. Additions from April 1891 to April 1895. London 1895

See also below 5.


4.1 Archival sources

The Archives collection is a rich source for material, mostly in English, and comprises internal records and technical drawings from engineering and research companies, personal papers of scientists and engineers, and manuscripts of technical content.

In addition, material relating to the history of the Science Museum and of the library is in a special collection known as the ``Z' archive. This includes correspondence, memorandum books, accessions lists, photographs, and archives relating to specific exhibitions. There are no published guides. However, the contents of each archive are listed separately and these lists are available for consultation in the library.

4.2 Publications

Follett, Sir David: The rise of the Science Museum under Henry Lyons. London: Science Museum 1978

Day, Lance: The Science Museum Library. 1985 [unpublished]

Wyatt, Nicholas J.: The Science Museum Library. A history. London: Science Museum Library 1996 [unpublished, upon which much of the history of the library is based]


Day, Lance: Resources for the history of science in the Science Museum Library. In: British Journal for the History of Science 18 (1985) pp. 72-76

Day, Lance: Resources for the study of the history of technology in the Science Museum Library In: Iatul Quarterly 3, no. 2 (1989) pp. 122-139

Exhibition catalogues:

A hundred alchemical books. London 1952

Historic books on mining and kindred subjects. [By Robert Annan.] London 1960

Historic books on machines. [By C. St. C. B. Davidson.] London 1953

See also: A directory of rare book and special collections ...2nd ed. London 1997, pp. 365-366

June 1999

Nicholas J. Wyatt

Quelle: Handbuch der historischen Buchbestände in Deutschland. Digitalisiert von Günter Kükenshöner.
Hrsg. von Bernhard Fabian. Hildesheim: Olms Neue Medien 2003.