Finding rare books

Records for much of the Rare Books Collection are in our Catalogue, but if you do not find the item you are looking for, please ask for help: the item may not yet be catalogued, or an alternative version may be available - for example in microform or online.

In order to preserve the original, if the Library holds both an original and an alternative version, and your needs can be met by the alternative version, we will ask you to use this instead.

The catalogue record for a rare book gives a call number with the prefix RB.

Requesting rare books

You must be a registered reader to request items from the Rare Books Collection. Requests are submitted online via the Catalogue, using your Library login, and will be delivered to the Special Collections Reading Room for use. See our Collection delivery service page for more information on delivery times. You can track the progress of your request via the " Requests" link in the Catalogue.

Please show your National Library card to the staff at the Special Collections Reading Room desk. Material cannot be issued without proof of identity, and cannot be taken out of the Special Collections Reading Room.

The opening hours of the Special Collections Reading Room are listed on our Opening hours page and most RB material can be retrieved during normal stack service hours.

Items delivered to the Special Collections Reading Room are held for 7 days. If at the end of that time you have not finished with the material, an extension may be allowed - please see the staff at the desk.


Please handle all rare books very carefully. Gloves are provided to wear when using some pre-1901 material, and can borrow a weight to keep a tightly-bound book open. Cradles are also available for books with fragile or damaged spines. Please use a pencil when taking notes.


Rare books, items from many Formed Collections, or pre-1901 material, cannot be photocopied by readers as copying cannot be permitted if there is a risk of physical damage to the book. Photocopies or photographs (digital images or prints) can be requested through our Copies Direct service. Digital photography using your own camera (without flash) may also be permitted - please ask staff at the Special Collections Reading Room desk. Remember that the Copyright Act applies to modern rare books or facsimiles, as it does to material in the Library's general collection. Apart from copyright considerations, if you plan to use an image or copy of something from our collections in a publication, you will need to complete a "Permission to Publish" form - these can be obtained from the staff at the desk.