The OTHER great library at our doorstep: Social Science Collections at the British Library


The British Library

We often forget that we are a stone’s throw away from the other great library – the British Library which is our national library.

Last Tuesday, thanks to a timely reminder from an esteemed colleague, I attended a lunch time talk at the Thomas Coram Research Unit  by Dr. Polly Russell, the Lead Curator for Social Science Research at the British Library entitled “Exploring the British Library’s Collections for Researching Children and Families”.

Dr. Russell’s talk highlighted some of the gems in the national library’s collections, especially those relevant to researchers working children, family and related subjects.  These collections included the following:

The Sound Archive’s Oral History Collections available from the newly launched Sounds Website  – a collection of over 20,000 interviews (some digitised and available to listen online with accompanying transcripts) which surveys British life and is rich in detail about all aspects of British life in the twentieth century including social issues, health, disability, ethnicity and education (primary right through to tertiary), training.  Also of note is the National Life Stories Collection  which has some focus on education and training, the Millennium Memory Bank  (catalogue no. C900), the Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918 (C707) and the George Ewart Evans Collection of 250 recordings between 1956 and 1977 which include discussion of school life in rural communities.

Other collections that maybe of interest to researchers at the IOE are:  the Opie Collection of Games and Songs (C898) which documents children’s playground games and songs between 1968 and 1982.  These recordings have been digitised with funds received from the AHRC under the guidance of Professor Andrew Burn of the IOE.  Further information on project is available at;   Out of Sight (C444/04) which is a collection of video and audio tape materials about the experiences of disabled people as children in special schools and in their later lives; the Paul Mersch Orphanage Interviews (C453) which includes interviews with people brought up in orphanages in the early part of the twentieth century.  All of these collections can be found in sound archive catalogue, Cadensa, whcih is available at

Whilst browsing these collections online, I came across the History in Education Project  (C608) which  is an oral history of history teaching as it has developed in English state schools and  features  interviews recorded between 1961 and 1992.  More information about this project and a book that was launched last November is available here:  This is of particular interest to me as we are in the process of cataloging some of the history (and science and technology) textbooks with funding provided by JISC (an update on this project will follow).

The British Library, being a legal deposit library, has a fairly extensive research collection of book and journals (both in print and electronic) relating to education and the social sciences.  For example, there is an extensive collection of official publications built up over 200 years, electoral registers for the whole of the UK dating back to 1832 and many other social policy documents, some of which are highlighted on Welfare Reform on the Web site.  The sociolinguistics collection, which is one of the largest such collections, is particularly rich and includes materials in all media – dialects, for instance, can be heard at

Becoming a member  of the British Library will also enable access the large collection of electronic databases (see:  http://eresources/socsci/edu.html).  So, without more ado, get up the road from the IOE to explore  the wonderful national treasures at that other great library.

Nazlin Bhimani

About Nazlin Bhimani

Research Support and Special Collections Librarian, UCL Institute of Education, London
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