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University of Birmingham Library

Address. University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT[Map]
Telephone. +44 (0)121 414 5828;
+44 (0)121 414-5838 (Special Collections Department);
+44 (0)1789 29 31 38 (Shakespeare Institute Library, Stratford-upon-Avon)
Fax. +44 (0)121 471-4691
e-mail. [mailto: library@mail.libanswers.bham.ac.uk]
Internet. https://intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/library

Governing body or responsible institution. University of Birmingham
Functions. Undergraduate and research library.
Subjects. Most academic subjects covered.

Access. Open to all members of the University. Research students and academic staff at other institutions may join as external borrowers. Undergraduates from other institutions and members of the public have limited reference access during term, but unlimited reference access during vacation. Admission to all bona fide research workers. Prior application to the Special Collections Librarian is essential. Formal identification is required for non-members of the University. - Opening hours (Special Collections): Monday to Friday 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Special facilities. Photocopiers, microform reader-printers, Internet access, computer printers, CD-ROM discs.
Travel directions. Nearest train station is University (local train service from Birmingham New Street). On several bus routes. - Limited parking nearby.


1.1 The University of Birmingham was founded in 1900, and was the first ``red brick' university. In 1880 Josiah Mason (1795 -1881), a local industrialist and philanthropist, founded a science college in the city centre. The college became a University College in 1898, and gained its charter as the University of Birmingham in 1900. The University was initially located in Birmingham city centre, in the Science College building; but in 1900, after a gift of land from Lord Calthorpe on an open site in Edgbaston, moved to its present location. The present Main Library building opened in 1959 and was further extended in the 1970s. There are also 10 other site libraries - mostly on campus, but including the Shakespeare Institute library in Stratford-upon-Avon.

1.2 The donation by Sir Thomas Pretious Heslop (1823-1885) of his personal library of 11,000 books to the Science College and donations of other private libraries since (see below 1.3), have provided the foundation of the library's historical collections. Most of the pre-1850 imprints are housed in a discrete special collections room, the Heslop room. Joseph Chamberlain (1836-1914) was the University's first chancellor, and the donation of the Chamberlain family archive to the University Library in 1960 was an important acquisition.

1.3 During the 20th century a number of special collections have been built up. They include: early printed books; the complete donated libraries of St. Mary's Church in Warwick, founded in 1701 (2,000 vols), of the Rev. Thomas Shaw of Bengeworth (1,000 vols), and of the Rev. Thomas Wigan of Bewdley (3,000 vols); and the archives of the Chamberlains, of Lord Avon, and of the Church Missionary Society. The library catalogue includes about 1,500 rare items from Lichfield and Worcester Cathedral Libraries - in return for advice and assistance from the University Library. There is a Birmingham School of Printing collection and a growing collection of books from the Bodoni, Foulis and Kelmscott Presses. University members have access to the resources of these libraries.

1.4 The library collections have developed with the expansion of academic departments, and Birmingham University Library is now one of the largest research libraries in the UK, with approximately 2.2 million vols of books and journals currently in stock.


Chronological outline and analysis by language

2.1 The printed collections comprise approximately 2.2 million vols, of which pre-1901 imprints make up a minority. The library holds 60 incunabula, c. 1,200 STC and c. 3,300 Wing items. Microfiche and CD-ROM versions of early texts have often been purchased instead of originals.

2.2 The library catalogues do not allow an accurate breakdown of material by language, or, post 1640, by place of publication; but of the early printed material, the majority is in Latin, with a large proportion being printed in Germany. The University has large Departments of French, Spanish, German, Italian and Russian, as well as Departments involved in teaching Greek (ancient and modern), Latin, Turkish and West African languages; and the library's collections reflect this in the wide range of material in diverse languages - French and German being probably the largest collections other than English.

Subject outline

2.3 The library's holdings largely reflect the teaching and research interests of the academic departments. It has strengths in most academic disciplines: Arts, Humanities, Sciences, Engineering, Law, Social Sciences and Medicine; and also has a number of special collections (see above 1.3). Areas with a number

 of German or German imprint items are detailed below.

2.4 Incunabula. Only two of the Birmingham incunabula are both printed in Germany and in the German-language - a German language-copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493), and a single leaf from a 1483 Strasbourg imprint by Schott of Otto von Passau's Die Vier und Zwanzig Alten. The vast majority of the material is printed in Latin. 49 items have German imprints, and 7 have Swiss. This represents over half of the library's incunabula holdings.

2.5 Bibles. The collection includes a number of German printed Bibles, including a Koberger imprint (Nuremberg 1497), and Johann Froben's Hebrew Old Testament (Basel 1558), and Latin Bible (Basel 1498). The earliest Bible the library has printed in the German language is a 1606 Frankfurt edition.

2.6 Early Church/Theology. The library holds a number of early editions of the writings of the Church Fathers and early liturgical works. The collection includes 15th and 16th-century German and Swiss imprints of the works of Augustine, Jerome and Ambrose, including a 1489 imprint of Augustine's Psalmorum Explanatio, and a 1492 imprint of Ambrose's Opera, both printed by Amerbach in Basel; and also a 1516 imprint of Jerome's Operum Omnium printed by Froben, again at Basel. Early copies of the works of Chrysostom, including Froben's 1530 and 1558 imprints of his Opera, and Sorg's Lectionary (Augsburg 1493) are also held.

2.7 German History. A large number of the German language and German imprint items in the library are concerned with German history. There is a good collection of 18th and 19th-century materials, reflecting the research interests of the German Studies Department. Examples include Jacob Grimm's Deutsche Rechtsalterthümer (Göttingen 1828), Johann Christoph Olearius's Thuringische Historien und Chronicken (Frankfurt and Leipzig 1704), and Wilhelm Rudeck's Geschichte der öffentlichen Sittlichkeit in Deutschland (Jena 1897).

2.8 Medicine. The Barnes Medical Library contains a collection of c. 5,000 early medical texts (16th to 20th century), a small number of which are German imprints. These include Galen's Opera (Basel 1549) and Hippocrates's Opera (Basel 1554), both printed by Johannes Froben; George Ernest Stahl, Theoria medica vera physiologiam & pathologiam ... sistens (Halle 1708); Albrecht von Haller, Elementa physiologiae corporis humani (Bern 1766); Wilhelm Ulrich Waldschmidt, Praxis medicinae rationalis (Frankfurt 1707) and Carl Friedrich Burdach, Die Physiologie als Erfahrungswissenschaft (Leipzig 1826). Special strengths are about 100 items on the plague, including Franz von Schraud, Geschichte der Pest in Sirmien in den Jahren 1795 und 1796 (Pest 1801) and a number of works on spas and bathing. The Barnes Medical Library also houses the collection of the Birmingham Medical Institute, which includes a small number of German imprints, e.g. Matthias Tilingius, Rhabarbarologia ... curiosa (Frankfurt 1679), and Michael Ettmüller, Opera Omnia (Frankfurt 1688).

2.9 German Literature and Language. This is the largest collection of German or German imprint books in the library and reflects the German Studies Department research interests. Most of the pre-1901 materials are 19th-century imprints, and concentrate on the areas researched by the academic staff - especially Heine and Klinger. The collection also includes 19th-century imprints of early German literature such as Parzival and Das Nibelungenlied - again reflecting research interests of academics. Also in stock is a complete edition of the Deutsches Wörterbuch started by Jacob Grimm in 1854. There is a good general collection of 19th-century editions of German language tools and grammars, German literature, and, in the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon (which holds c. 700 pre-1850 works), a number of German language and German imprint works on Shakespeare, again, mostly from the 19th century.

2.10 Classics/Ancient History. A large number of German imprints and translations of classical texts are held, some of which are very early imprints, including Froben's editions of the works of Pliny (1525), Seneca (1515), Aristophanes (1547), and Aesop (1534), all printed at Basel; and Koberger's edition of Boethius's De consolatione philosophiae (Nuremberg 1476). There are also a number of, mostly 19th-century, German works on ancient history and literature.

2.11 Other. Other subject areas covered include philosophy - there is a small collection of 18th and 19th-century works, including those of Hegel, Kant and Freud; Music - again mostly 18th and 19th-century scores; and Art - including Dürer's illustrated Vier Bücher von Menschlicher Proportion (Nuremberg: Hieronymus Andrea Formschneider 1528).


Author/title card catalogue and subject card catalogue

[all items accessed before 1972]

Special Collections printers index

[lists items by place of printing up to 1640]

Computerised library catalogue (BLCMP Talis system)

[All items accessed since 1972. Retrospective conversion ongoing. The computer catalogue is also accessible on the Internet via JANET:


BLCMP union microfiche catalogue

[updated monthly; lists all holdings of all libraries with BLCMP systems in author/title sequence]

Consortium of University Research Libraries (CURL)

[The University is a member of CURL, and all its library holdings recorded online are included in the COPAC union catalogue. COPAC is accessible on the internet: http://copac.ac.uk/copac/.]

Fenlon, I.: Catalogue of printed music and music MSS before 1801 in the Music Library of the University of Birmingham. London 1976

The incunables are recorded in the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC).


4.1 Archival sources

All the University of Birmingham Archives are catalogued and housed in Special Collections.

4.2 Publications

Platt, P.: A history of the library of the University of Birmingham. Fellowship thesis of the Library Association 1966

Evans, H. B.: The library over a hundred years (1880-1980). Birmingham 1981


Benedicz, B. S.: The political archives of Birmingham University. London 1991

Benedicz, B. S.: University of Birmingham Library Guide to the Chamberlain Collection. Birmingham 1978

See also: A directory of rare book and special collections ...2nd ed. London 1997, pp. 568-569

June 1998

Karen Jackson

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