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Library and Archives

Peter Apian, Instrument buch (Ingolstadt, 1533), title page.

Peter Apian, Instrument buch (Ingolstadt, 1533), title page.

The Museum’s library, archives, and similar collections are an important part of its collection as a whole. This page introduces these holdings and provides information about access.

The Museum has always collected across the whole range of source materials in illustration of its theme (history of science with special reference to scientific instruments), and many objects or collections acquired over the years have been accompanied by books or archives. The founding benefactor Lewis Evans included a library of rare books, a collection of manuscripts, and even a small group of printed ephemera with his original gift in 1924, hoping to create a comprehensive resource for the display and study of historic scientific instruments. The Museum built upon this idea, resulting in a rich and varied collection of library-type materials.

The core library collection – printed books, pamphlets, and periodicals – now numbers some 20,000 items, dating from 1476 to the present. Details can be found in the online library catalogue, and the books are also catalogued on Oxford University’s union catalogue SOLO. The rarer books – many of them belonging to the founder’s library – include several incunabula, some interesting bindings, and numerous association copies. A large quantity of pamphlets and printed ephemera is also held, and some runs of old scientific periodicals. Antiquarian material predominates, but is supplemented by modern reference works, monographs, and offprints of articles, chiefly on the history of scientific instruments.

The Museum’s other paper-based collections include paper instruments, prints, photographs, manuscripts, and of course – crucial to any museum – support documentation about its objects. Prints and photographs are catalogued on the Museum’s main objects database. Manuscripts and mixed archival collections are outlined in a summary list, with more information available on request.

User Information

In addition to their use in exhibitions, teaching, and the Museum’s own research and curatorial activities, all these collections are available to researchers by appointment, on a similar basis to items from the collection of objects. The Museum does not provide a conventional library service, for which readers use the Bodleian or other academic libraries. Researchers who come to the Museum are generally consulting items that cannot be found elsewhere, or using library or archival material in conjunction with studying the Museum’s objects.

For appointments, further information about holdings, and other enquiries please contact in the first instance the library/archives e mail address (library@mhs.ox.ac.uk). The reading-room telephone number is 01865 277278, but it is not permanently staffed. Note that being a small organisation, with a small staff, appointments cannot be as flexible as we would wish and are unlikely to be available at short notice. But every effort is made to provide access to unique holdings and to assist researchers with specialised enquiries in our field.