Music blog

Music news and views

26 January 2024

Restoring access to the British Library’s Music Collections (January 2024)

Following the recent cyber-attack on the British Library, the Library has now implemented an interim service which will enable existing Registered Readers to access most of our printed music, music manuscripts, and paper-based archival collections relating to music. This service will be expanded further in the coming weeks so please see the British Library's temporary website for the most up to date information. 

We understand how frustrating this recent period has been for everyone wishing to access our printed music, and music manuscripts and archives, and we would like to thank you for your patience. We are continuing to work to restore our services, and you can read more about these activities on our Knowledge Matters blog

The Using the Library page on our temporary website provides general information on current Library services, and advice for those without an existing Reader Pass. Please read on for information about the availability of specific music collections.

Printed music

You can now search for printed music using a searchable online version of our main catalogue of books and other printed material. Online and advance ordering is unavailable, so Registered Readers will need to collect a paper order form from staff in the Rare Books & Music Reading Room and fill in the required details. Please write the shelfmark exactly as it appears in the online catalogue.

Printed music with shelfmarks that start with the following letters should be available: a-i, A-H, Hirsch, I, N, P, R.M.5-R.M.17., RPS, Tyson. Unfortunately we cannot guarantee availability, as an item may, for instance, be in use by another Reader. If you wish to gain greater assurance on the availability of a particular item before you visit us, please contact our Reference Services Team by emailing

For other material, including printed music shelfmarks beginning K.,M., Mad. Soc., R.M.18.-R.M.27., VOC and INS we would also advise checking before you visit as some material is not yet available. The lending collection of modern printed scores held at our Boston Spa site is also currently unavailable.

Music manuscripts and music-related archival documents

Although the Library’s online catalogue of archives and manuscripts is not currently available, the Reference Services Team can assist with queries about these collections, checking paper catalogues and other sources. Please speak to the team in the Rare Books & Music Reading Room or email

In addition, the following digitised copies of older catalogues give details of music manuscripts acquired before about 1900: Hughes-Hughes, Augustus, Catalogue of Manuscript Music in the British Museum, 3 vols (London: British Museum, 1906-1909).

Most music manuscripts and archives can now be made available to existing Registered Readers, including restricted category material, although some material may need approval to see first. This includes manuscripts with the following prefixes:

  • Soc. (Madrigal Society Loan Collection)
  • Music Loan
  • M. manuscripts
  • RPS MS (RPS printed music is available, but not RPS manuscripts)
  • Zweig MS

As well as some music manuscripts from the following collections: Add MS, Egerton, Royal Appendix, Royal, King’s, MS Mus. The Reference Services Team can advise on whether a particular item is likely to be available. Please speak to the team in the Rare Books & Music Reading Room or email

To place a request to see a music manuscript or archival document relating to music, Registered Readers need to collect a paper order form from staff in the Rare Books & Music Reading Room and fill in the required details, including the shelfmark (manuscript number).

For restricted items, both printed and manuscript, readers are encouraged to contact Reference Services via LibAnswers who can advise about applying for access to this material category. Please note that applications can take up to 3 working days to process.


The Reference Services Team in the Rare Books & Music Reading Room has a full list of microfilms of printed and manuscript music.

Digital resources

You can search for most of our digitised printed music on Google Books.

Early Music Online contains images of 16th-century anthologies of printed music in the British Library.

We regret that our digitised music manuscripts and electronic research resources are not currently available.

We thank you, once again, for your patience as we continue to work to restore our services. Please do check this blog and the temporary British Library website for further updates.

Sandra Tuppen, Head of Music Collections

January 2024 (last updated 5 June 2024)


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