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Rare Books, Special Collections, Hartley Library: About

Rare Books

The Rare Books sequence consists of books from the general library collections published before 1801, and items of significance or rarity published after that date. A re-cataloguing project will extend the transfer date to include books published before 1850. 

The material covers a wide range of subjects, reflecting the interests of the University and its predecessors, there being an emphasis on theological, historical, philosophical and literary works.

Within the collection there are a number of smaller donated or deposited collections:

  • theological books from the library of John Bullar (1777-1864), a contemporary of Henry Robinson Hartley, the founder of the Hartley Institution;
  • books relating to Dante presented by Sir Samuel Gurney Dixon (1878-1970)
  • the parish libraries of Basingstoke (the Wheler Library) and Droxford
  • books from the Southampton Reading Society and the Southampton Theological Society
  • domestic sheet music compilations including those of Thomas and Louisa Gladstone and the Misses Shirreff, Sprot and Whitford

Extent: Approximately 4,000 books, ranging in date from the late 15th century to the 20th century.

Location and Access

The Rare Books are part of Special Collections on level 4 of the Hartley Library and items are fetched for use in the Archives, Manuscripts and Rare Books Search Room.


The Search Room is open Tuesday-Thursday 1000-1600. All visits are by prior appointment and all visitors will be required to book their visit and to order their material at least 1 working day in advance. 

Bookings are made by emailing providing details of name, University ID number (members of the University of Southampton only), permanent residential address and contact details, date of visit and list of items to be consulted.

If you do not have a University I.D. Card, you will need to show photographic I.D. and a form of I.D. which includes your permanent residential address when you enter the Hartley Library and also when you arrive at the Search Room.


Library Search includes records for a proportion of the Rare Books (all pre-1700 British imprints and a growing number of post-1800 imprints).  It enables you to search the Library's printed books, journals and electronic resources at the same time. Access to e-resources is limited to staff and students of the University.

Basic Search

Enter keywords / author surname / significant title words in the search box and then refine the Results List using the filters on the left e.g. by book / date  / subject. You can re-sort the Results List to your preferred order using the drop-down menu at the top of the list. 

Library Search groups print copies, e-books and different editions of the same work under one record in the Results List. To see the separate records, select the 'Show all' filter.

Advanced Search

Using Advanced Search, you can undertake a more targeted search by selecting search indexes from drop-down lists and by presetting filters for format and date.

Books not yet re-catalogued are listed in the Hartley Library card catalogue, which is in the Film and Music Resources Room on level 5. Rare Books are indicated by the call number prefix x or xq.

An imprints index is also available in the Special Collections Enquiry Office.

General enquiries about the Rare Books contact: Jenny Ruthven email:  or tel. 023 80593335 

Search Room Bookings: email: or tel. 023 80592721

Address: Special Collections, Hartley Library, University of Southampton, Southampton SO17 1BJ

Reprographics Service

Bound volumes cannot be photocopied but you can request photographic or microfilm copies, subject to the age and condition of the item.

See Reprographics Service for a list of the types of copy available and charges.

From: John Harris The Description and Use of the Globes and the Orrery (1731)

engraving of globe

Rare Books QB 66

Related E-Book Collections

Access to some collections is restricted to members of the University.

Library Catalogues

Search library collections worldwide in the following union catalogues: