Social Science blog

Exploring Social Science at the British Library

22 April 2024

Researching social work in the Social Sciences Reading Room.

This post, written by Social Sciences Subject Librarian, Ben Hadley, describes printed resources relevant to social work that are available to readers in the Social Sciences Reading Room, as well as publications that can be ordered up from basement storage for use in the reading rooms.  The Library's digital collections are not currently available whilst systems are restored following the cyber attack in October 2023.   Information about the restoration of services can be found on the British Library Knowledge Matters blog, and details of opening hours and current services are on the Library's website.


Mod soc thought shelf

Reference materials relevant to social work in the OPL section on the shelves in the Social Sciences Reading Room. 


Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change. Research themes encompass a range of interdisciplinary approaches including law, philosophy, politics, public policy, psychology and social anthropology. 


The recent cyber-attack has had a severe impact on our digital collections. Unfortunately we currently cannot provide access to abstracting databases and e-resources via our reading room PCs.  Similarly, we are not able to provide access to books and journals published in the UK or in Ireland that have been deposited with the Library in electronic format rather than in print.  This affects many British (and also Irish) books published since 2013 as roughly half of the Library's intake from these countries is received in digital format.


However, readers can still order journals and printed books to use in our study spaces, and social work dictionaries, encyclopedias and reference sources on related topics are available on the open shelves. Social work research demands a multi-disciplinary approach, and we can still provide access to a broad spectrum of topics from a wide range of subject areas. Our research monographs cover a wide field of subject disciplines and many are held in the Social Sciences Reading Room. 


Here are just a few examples of books are available to order and use in the reading rooms, that can be found in our catalogue: 


Social Policy for Social Work, Lorraine Green and Karen Clark 

Soc Policy for Soc Work

Front cover of Social policy for social work, by Lorraine Green and Karen Clarke. Cambridge; Polity Press, 2016. British Library shelfmark YC.2016.b.604


This book examines the shifts in the dominant political ideology that have affected the nature of welfare provision and the balance of responsibilities between the family, the voluntary sector, the market and the state. It explains how these developments impact social workers and service users. 

It traces the origins of state welfare from the Elizabethan Poor Laws to the late 1800s. It then examines each stage of welfare provision from the post-war consensus through to the Coalition government 2010 – 2015.     British Library shelfmark YC.2016.b.604 


Mind, state and society: social history of psychiatry and mental health in Britain 1960 – 2010, edited by George Ikkos and Nick Bouras.

Mind state society

Cover image of Mind, state and society: social history of psychiatry and mental health in Britain 1960–2010, edited by George Ikkos and Nick Bouras. Cambridge University Press, 2021.  Shelfmark YC.2022.a.5666.


This book examines the reforms in psychiatry and mental health services in Britain. It features contributions from leading academics, policymakers, mental health clinicians, service users and carers. It offers a rich and integrated picture of mental health, covering experiences from children to older people; employment to homelessness; women to LGBTQ+; refugees to black and minority ethnic groups; and faith communities and the military. 

British Library shelfmark YC.2022.a.5666 


Child Welfare and Social Action in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Jon Lawrence and Pat Starkey.  Liverpool University Press, 2001

This collection of essays addresses child migration, ‘delinquency’, and the physical and psychological traumas of children in care. It offers an international perspective on these issues and each case study provides a thorough analysis within its historical context. Each of the themes introduced in this study can be explored in more detail in our collections. 

British Library shelfmark YC.2006.a.15461 


What is Social Work: Contexts and Perspectives, Nigel Horner. London; Learning Matters, 2012

This book is primarily aimed at social work students in their first year of study. It examines the major influences that shaped the welfare systems towards the end of the nineteenth century, including religious movements, philanthropy, social reform, labour movements and government policy. 


It presents an overview of child welfare policy and practice and introduces legal frameworks for working with children and families. It also examines the changing context of the profession in light of legislative changes from the 1908 Children Act which led to the introduction of juvenile courts, to the Children Act 2004 which affirmed a commitment to assuring high quality childcare for all.  

British Library shelfmark SPIS 361.30941 


In addition this book also introduces a professional capabilities framework that informs all social work practice. These themes can be explored further in studies held in the reading room under subject heading SPIS 361.01. A member of staff can help you to find these titles.  


Gender diversity, recognition and citizenship: towards a politics of difference, Sally Hines. Basingstoke; Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.


Gender diversity

Gender diversity, recognition and citizenship: towards a politics of difference, by Sally Hines. Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. British Library shelfmark SPIS 306.768 

This book explores the significance of the UK Gender Recognition Act (GRA) and considers broader social, cultural, legal political shifts that have resulted. This book considers the politics of identity and how lived experience has been impacted by these changes. The GRA is also contextualised within human rights discourse and law.  

British Library shelfmark SPIS 306.768  



Social Policy, John Baldock.  Oxford University Press, 2012

Explores the history and development of social policy and provides a comprehensive introduction to this area of study. An understanding of these themes is essential to social work students and to those studying related disciplines. The glossary provides a list of terms that can help readers to focus and narrow their research themes. 


Some of the subject headings in this study include: social need and inequality, family and welfare, the voluntary sector, global social policy, health policy, housing, crime and punishment. 

British Library shelfmark SPIS 361.610941 



Here is a list of some of the key journals in social work: 


Social Policy and Society 

British Journal of Social Work 

Journal of Social Policy 

Journal of evidence based social work 

Journal of social work practice 

Social Policy and Administration 


Some of the articles from these journals are available for free on the web. Just type the journal title into Google and you should be able to find a full list of articles on the publisher’s website. Look for the Open Access symbol, this means that an article is free to access.  We can provide access to other articles from these journals if they have been published before October 2023, just note down the year and issue number that you need and bring this information to the Social Sciences issue desk.  You can also find some digitised journal articles via the Internet Archive's  Wayback Machine. 


The following titles are held on the open shelves in the SPIS journals collection: 


Professional Social Work 

Psychoanalysis, Culture and Society 

Social Theory and Health 

Journal of Child and Adolescent Trauma 

Journal of Public Health Policy 


Here is a list of some of the topics associated with social work held within the SPIS books collection (there is a more comprehensive list in the reading room): 


Children 305.23  

Older people 305.26 

Courts 347.4201 

Social work 361.301  

Social action 361.2  

Social work research 362 

Mental health 362.2  

Disabled persons 362.4  

Children problems 362.7  

Criminology 364 

Drug abuse 362.29 

Counselling 361.06 

Delinquent and problem pupils 371.93  


In the OPL section you can find encylopedias and abstracts for related subjects and disciplines

Dictionary shelf

Examples of reference sources on the open shelves in the Social Sciences Reading Room.  



Reference materials on the open shelves include the following titles: 


Social research methods OPL 300.72  

Encyclopedias, sociology dictionaries OPL 301.03  

(In this section you can also find encyclopedias in women’s studies, social psychology, adolescence, race and LGBTQ studies) 

Encyclopedias of social work OPL. 361.003  

Social work abstracts OPL 361.973  

Halsbury’s laws of England OPL 344.4209  

Introduction the law and the legal system OPL 345.0973  

Magistrates court guide 2024 OPL 345.38  


Finally, here are some websites and resources that may be useful to your research into social policy: 


The King’s Fund Library 


London School of Economics Library 


British Sociological Association 


King’s College Library 


The Knowledge Exchange 


The following organisations publish research papers, policy briefings and reports on their websites: 


National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) 

Joseph Rowntree Foundation 

Resolution foundation 


The Children’s Commissioner 

Intergenerational Foundation 

International Longevity Centre (ILC-UK)