British Library goes online

More than 100 million books are now online as the British Library puts its collection on the Internet free of charge.

More than 100 million books are now online as the British Library puts its collection on the Internet free of charge.

With its online public catalogue, the British Library has put a wealth of knowledge within clicking distance

More than 10 million books, journals, reports, conferences and music scores covering every aspect of human thought since 1450 are now available free of charge to anyone with an Internet connection, after the British Library launched an online public catalogue, writes Daniel Thomas.

The British Library Public Catalogue, located at, is a result of the library's drive to make its collections more accessible. The library says the site is aimed at academics, business people, researchers or "anyone of a curious disposition" who will be able to find detailed bibliographic records on any subject.

The system includes details of reference holdings dating from the early days of printing to the present. Users can also search for books and reports from 1980 onwards, journals and serials from 1700 onwards and conferences from 1800 onwards.

Users can order these articles and conference papers direct from the Document Supply Centre, or contact the British Library for details of how to access the reading rooms at St Pancras, in central London.

The British Library Public Catalogue, which was previewed at the Online Information Exhibition in London last December, follows up and builds upon the Online Public Access Catalogue service, which attracted two million hits each month last year. It is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and includes an additional music catalogue which, the library says, heralds the posting of many British Library files not previously available online.

The catalogue features an advanced search engine with the ability to search across the whole catalogue, through individual or any combination of files. The site also offers improved display for files that use non-Roman character sets, such as Cyrillic or Hebrew. Guidance through the site appears automatically, courtesy of on-screen, context-sensitive help.

"The British Library Public Catalogue is another demonstration of our commitment to making our unrivalled collection more accessible," says Lynne Brindley, chief executive of the library.

"It is a major advance on earlier systems and is simpler to use. I am confident that not only will it meet the demands of business and academia, but also opens the doors of the library to a global community of users via the power of the Web."

Project benefits

The New British Library Public Catalogue

  • Offers over 10 million files online free of charge

  • Users can search for files and then order hard copies from the supply centre

  • Advanced search facilities allow users to find files or combinations of files quickly

  • Users are guided by on-screen, context-sensitive help

  • Offers many files, including music catalogues, not previously available online.

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