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About the Collections

The Library of the Religious Society of Friends in Britain is the repository for one of the most important collections of materials in the world relating to Quakers and their activities. It started in 1673 when the Second Day's Morning Meeting agreed to acquire two copies of everything written by Quakers and one copy of everything written against them. We are still collecting but it is no longer possible to be as comprehensive. As well as covering Quaker history and thought the collection covers topics in which Quakers have been active such as peace, anti-slavery and relief work. The Library also holds the central archives and records of Britain Yearly Meeting.

The Library Collection Policy [PDF: 54kb - new window] gives a clear statement of our current collecting policy and acquisitions criteria. Specific collection policies are being written for each of the Library's collecting areas.

Books and pamphlets

The Library has over 80,000 books and pamphlets, including a unique collection of 17th Century Quaker and anti-Quaker material. It is a reference collection, although we will sometimes loan duplicate copies of books less than 75 years old to registered borrowers in the UK only. Over half of the printed collection is searchable on the Library's online catalogue.

Periodicals

Over 200 titles are regularly received that are mainly Quaker related. They range from academic titles such as Quaker Studies and The Journal of the Friends Historical Society, to special interests such as Towards Wholeness (Friends Fellowship of Healing) to the newsletters and journals of other Yearly Meetings. We have complete runs of many titles, plus older titles that no longer exist.

There is also a guide to the Periodicals collection

Archives and Manuscripts

The Library houses four broad categories of archival materials. They are:

  • the archives of Britain Yearly Meeting and its committees (including Meeting for Sufferings). These are committees responsible for the work of Friends in Britain and overseas.
  • the archives of London & Middlesex General Meeting and its monthly and local meetings. This covers Greater London, Middlesex and some parts of Essex, Kent and Surrey which border on London.
  • the archives of some Quaker organisations that are not part of Britain Yearly Meeting, such as Friends Ambulance Unit; and a few non-Quaker organisations, such as Central Board for Conscientious Objectors.
  • manuscript collections and papers of a wide variety of significant Friends, such as Margaret Fell and Elizabeth Fry. Please note that manuscripts received after the mid-1990's have not normally been listed or catalogued.

Like most archival collections there may be restrictions on access to some items. For more information on access see

Meeting records

Records of Quaker meetings outside the London and Middlesex General Meeting area are not held in the Library, but are deposited in the appropriate local records offices and libraries around the country. A location list is kept in the Library. The Archon Directory www.archon.nationalarchives.gov.uk/archon has details of local records offices and repositories in the UK.

Pictures and Museum objects

The Library is home to a varied collection of photographs (including a substantial collection of lantern slides), paintings, drawings, prints and posters. Subjects consist mostly of group and individual portraits of Friends, meeting houses and aspects of Quaker work at home and abroad. For information on purchasing reproductions please read Pictures Collection [PDF: 45kb - new window]

The Library also has a varied collection of museum objects.

Records Management

The Library provides a records management service to Britain Yearly Meeting departments. It gives help and advice on records management practices and procedures.