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Library resources in the history and philosophy of science

The aim of this guide is to show how to find out about library resources that are available in a particular subject area, and also to outline some of the most important resources available in Cambridge and the rest of the UK. Classmarks in square brackets refer to either the location in Cambridge University Library (UL) or the Whipple Library (Whipple).

Finding guides

This is by no means an exhaustive list of resources, but merely a taster of what is available. Many printed sources are now being superseded by web-based information.

Libraries in Cambridge

Departmental and college libraries
University of Cambridge Libraries Directory. Cambridge: University Library, 1980– [Current ed.: Whipple Library Office; UL Ref.45.39]
Includes contact details, URLs, and brief details of special collections. The online version is updated continually throughout the year and provides links to the websites of individual libraries, which give by far the most detailed information on their respective resources.

Departmental libraries
Guide to libraries of the University of Cambridge. Cambridge: University Library, 1969. [UL Ref.45.38]
This guide is now very out of date, but does contain more detailed information about the history and special collections of Departmental Libraries than the Libraries Directory above.

College libraries
Munby, ANL, Cambridge college libraries: aids for research students. 2nd ed., rev. and enl. Cambridge: W. Heffer, 1962. [UL Ref.45.36]
Again this guide is out of date but does contain more detailed information on special collections than is available in the Libraries Directory.

Libraries in Oxford

The Oxford University Libraries website contains the most current information on libraries in Oxford, including a listing by subject. Entries for the individual libraries give contact information, subject coverage, as well as links to the libraries' own webpages.

There are also several printed guides with useful information:

  • Shaw, DF, Oxford University science libraries: a guide. Oxford: Bodleian Library, 1981. [UL Ref.45.34]
    This guide provides useful information on the special collections in Oxford science libraries, though is now somewhat out-of-date.
  • Gunther, RT, Early science in Oxford. V. 11: Oxford colleges and their men of science. Oxford: Printed for the author, 1937. p. 325–36 'Old scientific books in college libraries' [Whipple C.32 K]
    A good (but again, out-of-date) guide to science collections, focusing on early donations and the provenance of the collections.
  • Morgan, P, Oxford libraries outside the Bodleian: a guide. 2nd ed. Oxford: Bodleian, 1980. [UL Ref.45.33]
    This includes details of both printed book and manuscript collections.

Libraries in London

  • Rosen, D and S Rosen, London science: museums, libraries and places of scientific, technological or medical interest. London: Prion, 1994. [UL 9000.b.8857]
    This basic guide is a good introduction to the resources available in London, and contains a useful address and telephone section, as well as an index including names and subjects.

Libraries in the UK

There are several printed guides, both specialized and general, to UK libraries, some of which are listed here. The Whipple holds most of these, but many more can be found in the University Library Reading Room at Ref 45. Most of these guides index 'History of Science' (under various headings); very few have separate index entries for 'Philosophy of Science'. It is also worth searching under the individual sciences to locate resources, e.g. 'Astronomy': some of the library entries indexed under a general heading will include details of relevant collections, even if 'History' or 'Philosophy' wasn't specified under 'Astronomy' in the index.

  • Bloomfield, BC, (ed.), A directory of rare book and special collections in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. 2nd ed. London: Library Association, 1997. [Whipple REF (DIR 13)]
    By far the best guide to special collections in the UK. Entries are arranged by counties and include contact information. There is also a useful subject index.
  • Reynard, Keith W, (ed.), Directory of literary and historical collections in the United Kingdom. London: Aslib, 1993. [Whipple REF (DIR 31)]
    Arranged alphabetically by institution, but the index does include subject entries. The contact information is now out-of-date, however.
  • Roberts, Stephen, Alan Cooper and Lesley Gilder, (comps.), Research libraries and collections in the United Kingdom: a selective inventory and guide. London: Bingley, 1978. [UL Ref.45.13]
    Now somewhat out-of-date, but does include separate name and subject indexes.

Two general guides to libraries also worth a look are:

  • Reynard, Keith W and Jeremy ME Reynard, The Aslib directory of information sources in the United Kingdom. 10th ed. London: Aslib, 1998. [UL Ref.45.10]
    The entries are not as full as those in Bloomfield, but coverage in wide and there is a good subject index with headings subdivided by 'History' and 'Special Collection' where relevant.
  • Walker, Iain, (ed.), The libraries directory: a guide to the libraries and archives of the United Kingdom and Ireland, 1998–2000. Cambridge: Clarke, 2001. [Whipple REF (DIR 7)]
    Arranged by library type (there is a section on special libraries). The index includes subjects (e.g. for history and philosophy of science, look under 'History, of science' and 'Philosophy, of science').

International guides

  • World guide to special libraries. 4th ed. München: K.G. Saur, 1998. [UL Ref.45.8]
    This guide is up-to-date and comprehensive. Resources are listed under subject, e.g. Science History, Technology History; Medical History; Science and State. A list of subject terms is given at the front of vol. 1. Its only drawback is that, like most of the guides, it has no separate listing for Philosophy of Science (look under Philosophy in general). As for the UK guides, it is also worth looking under individual subjects: e.g. look under 'Astronomy' to find resources relating to the history of astronomy.
  • Faerber, Marc and Matthew Miskelly, (eds.), Directory of special libraries and information centers. 23rd ed. 3 vols. Detroit; London: Gale, 1999. [UL Ref.45.U3]
    Arranged alphabetically by institution, with coverage heavier on the North American libraries. Includes a good subject index, and is one of the few guides to have an entry for 'Science, Philosophy'.
  • Thornton, JL and Tully, RIJ, Scientific books, libraries and collectors: a study of bibliography and the book trade in relation to science. London: Library Association, 1954. [Whipple REF (SCI 36)]
    See p. 215–25 'Private scientific libraries' (focusing on the libraries of scientists and what happened to them), and p. 235–42 'Scientific libraries of today' (surveys the most important scientific libraries of Great Britain and the United States, in chronological order of foundation).
    Supplement 1969–75. London: Library Association, 1978. [Whipple REF (SCI 37)]
    See p. 104–109 'Private scientific libraries' and p. 113–16 'Scientific libraries of today'.
    These provide an excellent introduction to scientific collections worldwide, both those available to the public and those held privately, about which information can be hard to locate.

A later edition of Thornton and Tully is also in the Whipple:

  • Hunter, Andrew, (ed.), Thornton and Tully's Scientific books, libraries, and collectors. 4th ed. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000. [Whipple REF (SCI 37B)]
    Includes chapters on 'Scientific books and their owners: a survey to c. 1720' (with a section on 'Scientific libraries in Britain') and 'Scientific book collectors and collections, public and private, 1720 to date', both with bibliographical references.

There is also a medical counterpart:

  • Besson, A (ed.), Thornton's medical books, libraries and collectors: a study of bibliography and the book trade in relation to the medical sciences. 3rd rev. ed. Aldershot: Gower, 1990. See p. 267–300 'Private medical libraries' and p. 301–341 'Medical libraries of today'. [Whipple REF (MED 47)]
    This also contains useful bibliographies on private and institutional libraries.

There are also useful general guides available to libraries in individual/groups of countries, e.g:

  • Brogan, ML (comp.), Research guide to libraries and archives in the Low Countries. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991. [UL Ref.45.B3]
    Detailed information (in English) on special collections available in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
  • Handbucher Bibliotheken Deutschland, Osterreich, Schweiz. 5. Ausg. München: K.G. Saur, 1998. [UL Ref.64.34]
    Up-to-date contact details. Contains a subject index.
  • American library directory 1998–99. 51st ed. New Jersey: Bowker, 1998.
    Comprehensive listing of US libraries.

Library resources available in Cambridge

Whipple Library

Free School Lane. Tel: (3)34547.

The pre-eminent Cambridge Library for material in the history and philosophy of science is obviously the Whipple Library, a research resource of international significance. It holds over 20,000 volumes, 2,500 periodical volumes and 8,000 pamphlets. Special collections include the Whipple Collection of rare books on scientific instruments with 150 books by Robert Boyle; the Sleeman collection on nineteenth and twentieth-century chemistry; the Steward collection on early physics and chemistry; the phrenology collection. The Library also provides access to the Philosopher's Index and holds the Wellcome Iconographic videodisk and the Hopkins database of works of biochemistry. The catalogue of the Library can be accessed through iDiscover.

University Library

West Road. Tel: (3)33000.

The University Library contains about 6 million volumes, including many early printed books, and over 127,000 manuscripts and 860,000 microforms. These include the manuscripts of Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, James Clerk Maxwell, Lord Kelvin, George Stokes, J.J. Thomson, William Bateson and J.D. Bernal. The Library also preserves the papers of several of the major scientific institutions of Cambridge University and, currently, the papers of the Royal Greenwich Observatory.

The online catalogue iDiscover can be accessed through the web. However, only material published after 1978 will definitely be online. For publications before this date you may need to check the pre-1978 General Catalogue in the green volumes around the walls of the main catalogue room. The Supplementary Catalogues (in the corridor running south from the reading room doors) contain material that was thought to be of secondary interest to academic study at the time of cataloguing, and you may find it necessary to consult these volumes if, for example you are looking for books for children. The cataloguing rules in these early catalogues can be confusing, so it may be worth picking up the leaflet A3: The Old Catalogues from the catalogue room.

The UL is unlike many other libraries in Cambridge in that it allows bound volumes of periodicals to be borrowed.

Other departmental and college libraries

Cambridge is rich in library resources, and in addition to the UL, you may find libraries in inter-related disciplines useful. In particular:

Many colleges and departmental libraries also have important scientific collections. For example:

For further details, contact the library concerned.

Library resources outside Cambridge

Special collections

Geological Society Library
Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BG. Tel: 020 7734 5673.
300,000 volumes covering all aspects of the geological sciences. The rare book collection illustrates the development of geology as a science, especially in nineteenth century Europe. Admission to non-members by appointment only.

Museo Galileo: Institute and Museum of the History of Science, Florence
Tel: 00 39 055 265311.
This important collection holds 80,000 volumes and pamphlets, 1,000 journals and 6,000 works in microfilm and microfiche. Special collections include the Medici-Lorena collection and eighteenth- and nineteenth-century collections on physics and mathematics. Online catalogue available. The website also provides access to the following bibliographies online: La Bibliografia Italiana di Storia della Scienza, Bibliografia Internazionale Galileiana (1965–1996) and Eugenio Garin Bibliografia 1929–1999.

Linnean Society Library
Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BF. Tel: 020 7734 4479.
Originally set up for the study of flora and fauna in 1788, this collection now contains 90,000 volumes on the biological sciences, and includes the library of Linnaeus. Admission by written application to the Librarian.

Museum of the History of Science Library, Oxford
Broad Street, Oxford, OX1 3AZ. Tel: 01865 277284.
The Library contains about 13,000 volumes in the history of science and early scientific books, with particular strengths in books on scientific instruments. It also holds the Royal Microscopical Society collection and the Stapleton collection on history of Arabic and Indian alchemistry. It is necessary to make an appointment to visit the library. An online catalogue is available, and most holdings are also catalogued on OLIS (the University of Oxford's online library catalogue).

Natural History Museum Library and Archives
Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD. Tel: 020 7938 9123.
The Department of Library and Information Services of the Natural History Museum is the largest natural history library in the world. The Department comprises the following subject libraries: General and Zoology, Botany, Entomology, and Earth Sciences. You will need to contact relevant library beforehand to make an appointment. The online library catalogue includes everything added to the collection since 1989 and around 80% of previously acquired material. Printed catalogue: Catalogue of the books, manuscripts, maps and drawings in the British Museum (Natural History) London: Printed by order of the Trustees of the British Museum, 1903–1940.

Royal Astronomical Society Library
Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1V 0NL. Tel: 020 7734 4582.
Established 1825. Most comprehensive special collection of astronomical rare books in Britain. Admission by appointment only.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew: Library and Archives
Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AE. Tel: 020 8332 5414.
Kew has a huge collection of about 120,000 monographs and 4,000 periodicals on plant sciences, including a number of special collections including the Linnaean botany collection and travel writings. An online catalogue is available.

Royal Entomological Society Library
The Mansion House, Chiswell Green Lane, St Albans, Herts, AL2 3NS.
The Library's strengths are in general biology and taxonomy of insects, particularly with reference to the Western Palaearctic Region. However, the Library aims to acquire major works of reference covering all aspects of insect biology, without any geographical bias.

Royal Institution Library
21 Albemarle Street, London W1S 4BS. Tel: 020 7409 2992.
The library has major holdings of science books and periodicals going back beyond the foundation of the Royal Institution in 1799.

Royal Society Library and Archives
6 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AG. Tel: 020 7451 2606.
The Royal Society's Library and Archives form an internationally important resource for research into the history and development of western science since 1600. The Library has strong collections in 17th- and 18th-century science books, and also has a wide range of material from outside that period. It has an extensive collection of over 5000 biographies of scientists from the sixteenth century to the present day.

New users should contact the Library beforehand to make sure that the information they require will be available. There is no online catalogue, but lists of new accessions are available on the webpage. Printed catalogue: Clark, AF (comp.), Book catalogue of the Library of the Royal Society, Frederick: University Publications of America, 1982. [Whipple REF]

Royal Society of Chemistry
Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BA. Tel: 020 7437 8656.
Searchable collection on historical chemistry, which grew out of the original holdings and donations to the Library of the Chemical Society. Admission on application to the Librarian. Online catalogue.

Science Museum Library and Archives
The Dana Research Centre and Library, 165 Queens Gate, London SW7 5HD. Tel: 020 7942 4242.
The Science Museum Library and Archives contain a rare book collection of 4,500, as well as primary and secondary material on the history of science. The online catalogue is only complete for items published since 1984. There is a card catalogue for items published before this date. Library Staff will check the card catalogue for you if you phone or email in advance.

Warburg Institute Library
Woburn Square, London WC1H 0AB. Tel: 020 7862 8935/6.
Specialist library of the University of London on the classical tradition. Online catalogue available.

Wellcome Library
183 Euston Road, London, NW1 2BE. Tel: 020 7611 8722.
The Wellcome Library is the largest library resource in the history of medicine in Europe, covering the history and development of traditional and non-traditional medicine from all cultures and periods. User guides can be downloaded from the Library webpage. The online catalogue contains approximately 400,000 records, and describes almost all published material held in the Library. All material held in the General Collections, Early Printed Books Collection and Oriental Collections is online.

The Iconographic Collections database can also be accessed through the catalogue and holds c.44,000 records for prints, drawings, photographs and paintings. The images can be viewed on the Videodisk, available at the Wellcome or in the Whipple.

Zoological Society of London Library
Regent's Park, London, NW1 4RY. Tel: 020 7449 6293.
Established 1826. The collection contains 200,000 volumes covering all branches of zoology, including 30,000 rare books. An online catalogue is now available.

Libraries and archives

Cornell University Kroch Library: History of Science Collections
Highlights of this 35,000 volume collection are major holdings on Lavoisier, Boyle, Newton, anatomy, embryology, herbals and ornithology.

Huntington Library: History of Science Collections
This independent research library near Pasadena, California, has a large collection of rare books and manuscripts, with many relating to science and technology. It includes the Burndy Library on the History of Science and Technology.

Linda Hall Library: History of Science Collections
This Kansas City library has a marvellous collection of science books and produces a number of excellent online exhibitions on the history of science.

Smithsonian Institution: Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology
Special Collections Department, Smithsonian Institution Libraries, P.O. Box 37012, NMAH 1041 MRC 672, Washington, DC 20013–7012.
Contains over 20,000 rare science and technology books and 2,000 related manuscript groups. Established in 1976 with a gift from the Burndy Library of Norwalk, Connecticut (created by Bern Dibner), it contains Dibner's famous set of the 200 'Heralds of Science'. An online catalogue is available via the Smithsonian's own catalogue, SIRIS, and records for the library have also been entered into the international database OCLC.

Stanford University Libraries: History of Science Collections
Holdings in the history of science include several major book and manuscript collections. Books and manuscripts relating to Sir Isaac Newton total over 4,000 volumes. The collection of early modern science, consisting of over 5,000 volumes, includes works by scientists from Ptolemy to Einstein, and includes original editions of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Vesalius, Boyle, and Darwin.

University of Oklahoma Bizzell Library: History of Science Collections
This 87,000 volume research library spans works from the 15th century to modern materials. It strives to be as comprehensive as possible in the field of history of science.

University of Wisconsin Memorial Library: History of Science Collections
An excellent collection of science books and manuscripts, particularly in chemistry, Robert Boyle, Joseph Priestly, Mesmerism and ornithology.

William Marshall Bullitt Collection of Rare Mathematics and Astronomy
A description of a splendid collection of the greatest mathematical books at the library of the University of Louisville, in Kentucky.