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Printed Special Collections, Hartley Library: Home

The collections contain over 50,000 books on a wide range of subjects, with publications dating from the fifteenth century to the present day.


General enquiries about Printed Special Collections contact:

Jenny Ruthven


tel. 023 80593335

Search Room Bookings:


tel. 023 80592721


Special Collections, Hartley Library, University of Southampton, Highfield, Southampton SO17 1BJ

Special Collections Home Page


Library Search contains records for most Special Collections books and journals, but some of the older material is listed only in the Card Catalogue which is in the Film and Music Resources Room on level 5.

Check the individual guides for catalogue information for each collection.

Related E-Book Collections

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

SOTSEF Book History

colouring sheet with illustration of ship


Welcome to the guide to the Hartley Library's Printed Special Collections which describes the individual collections, their value for teaching, learning and research and how to access the material.

Special Collections is the home of the rare books from the Library's general collections and also the named collections which have been presented to the University over the years. These range in size from a few hundred titles to several thousand volumes and include printed books, pamphlets, journals, maps, prints, photographs and postcards. You can find examples of the oldest printed books and the latest publications in Special Collections and the material is open to all to use.

Images from the Collections

Steep Hill

About the Collections

Named Special Collections

The named Special Collections are those associated with particular people or organisations and are usually acquired by the Library through donation or deposit. They often have a subject focus, reflecting the interests of the original owner and may contain publications of any date.

Rare Books

The general Rare Books sequence currently consists of books from the library collections published before 1801, and items of particular significance or rarity published after that date. The material reflects the interests of the University and its predecessors and covers a wide range of subjects, the largest sections being those on theology, history, philosophy and literature. A project to extend the coverage of rare books to those printed before 1850 is in progress. 

In adding material to Rare Books, consideration is given to:

  • age - books printed during the hand-press era from the 1450s until the mechanisation of printing in the first half of the 19th century
  • scarcity - books may be scarce because few copies were printed, or few copies survive
  • importance in discipline - first editions of literary works or books containing initial reports of scientific discoveries
  • intrinsic characteristics - examples of fine printing, typography or binding,
  • artefactual value - books which have physical characteristics distinguishing them from other copies printed at the same time e.g. marks of ownership (provenance) of a figure or collector of significance, annotations by the author or significant annotations by readers
  • vulnerability - books which contain plates, maps and moving parts, miniature books, single sheet publications

Using the Collections

The printed collections are open to members of the University and to the wider community.

To explore the resources available and find out if they can be of help in your study, teaching or research, use the tabs above or contact Special Collections.

Opening Hours

Special Collections Open Access Area

Material in this area can be used by members of the University whenever the Hartley Library is open. Access for visitors is between 08.00-22.00 and photo ID is required when signing in at Library Reception. If you are under 18 please contact with your enquiry. 

Archives 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.


Location and Access

Books and journals printed from 1850- are usually shelved in the Special Collections Open Access Area on level 4 of the Hartley Library.

Rare Books and Illustrations are fetched for use in the Archives Search Room, also on level 4.

Microform material is housed in the Microform Area on level 1.

Check the individual guides for the location of each collection.

If you do not have a University I.D. Card, you will need to show photographic I.D. on entering the Hartley Library and on entering the Search Room, a form of I.D. which shows your permanent residential address.

Reprographic Services

Open access material can be photocopied. The nearest photocopiers are behind the main staircase on level 4.

If you are not a member of the University, you will need to obtain a Guest Account login from either the Special Collections Enquiry Office or Hartley Library Reception.

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

See Reprographic Services for a list of the types of copy available and charges.