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About the library

The Library, Art & Archives at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew form one of the largest collections in the world relating to botany.
Reading Room at Kew's Main Library

Our collections

Electronic resources

Herbaria in microform

About the catalogue

Collection policy

History of the library

How you can help

Our collections

Main Library collections

Our main subject area is plant taxonomy and systematics. Material is mostly held in the Main Library, or in specialised sections like Palms, Monocots, Ferns, Grasses and Orchids. The Main Library also contains material on specialized horticulture, horticultural history and management, and a collection of material on botanic gardens and garden history, including seed lists from botanic gardens, and nursery catalogues from commercial growers. There is also a collection of maps and travel literature relating to expeditions and regions of botanical importance. See Using the Library for contact information.

Jodrell Library

The Jodrell Library has merged with the Economic Botany and Mycology Libraries and all are housed in the Jodrell Laboratory. This Library holds books and periodicals on plant anatomy, genetics, biochemistry, economic botany, ethnobotany and medicinal plants, as well as material relating to British and world non-lichenized fungi and lichens in the Mycology collections.

The Jodrell Library is open to researchers on Monday afternoons - apply for access to this collection as for the Main Library. Specialised requests for information on aspects of economic botany should be directed to the Economic Botany Collection.

Millennium Seed Bank Library

Material on seeds, plant physiology, seed storage and seed germination is held in the Millennium Seed Bank Library at Wakehurst Place.


The library houses an outstanding collection of original illustrations and prints, dating from the eighteenth century to the present. This collection is accompanied by material on botanical art, as well as fine examples of illustrated books. 

Find out more about Kew's Illustrations Collection


The Archives contain the official records of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the papers of many botanists, gardeners and other individuals.

Find out more about Kew's Archives


We also have a special section on the history and development of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, called Kewensia.

Find out more about the Kewensia Collection

Electronic resources

Electronic resources available via Kew's Library Catalogue

European Floras
Medicinal plants
African Floras
American Floras
Biodiversity & Conservation
Asian Floras
Australasian Floras
Herbaria & Botanical gardens
Pre-Linnean or Linnean

Kew databases & other electronic resources

ePIC (electronic Plant Information Centre)
IPNI (International Plant Names Index)
Kew Bibliographic Databases (KBD)
Hortus Nitidissimis

Herbaria in microform

The Library has a policy of acquiring all available collections of herbaria in microform (microfiche and microfilm). Visitors can make basic examinations of herbarium specimens held outside Kew and make prints from the microform.

Search Kew's Library Catalogue

About the catalogue

The Kew Library Catalogue forms a gateway to one of the largest resources of botanical information in the world. It contains bibliographic details of material held in the Main Library of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and in all branch libraries at Kew and Wakehurst Place.

Search Kew's Library Catalogue

The catalogue has been created using the Unicorn Collection Management System. The library's old catalogue cards were converted into electronic format between 1992 and 1995, and since then we have added new material at a rate of about 3,000 items per year.

The catalogue contains more than 160,000 individual records, including pamphlets and some non-published material. Of the around 3,800 periodical titles held at Kew, about 2,000 have entries on the online catalogue.

If you want to consult any material you have found on the catalogue, please apply to the library.

A list of recommended Internet resources relating to botany is available from our Links page, whilst an evergrowing number of electronic materials can be viewed via hyperlink from within catalogue records.

Collection policy

Under the Morton Agreement of 1962 between the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the Natural History Museum, the Kew Herbarium concentrates on the floristics of non-temperate parts of the world, British and world non-lichenized fungi, grasses and orchids. The Natural History Museum concentrates on the flora of Europe (including the UK), Central and North America, together with British and world lichenized fungi, algae, mosses and liverworts. The effect of this is that the Kew Library does not normally collect European or North American material of a purely regional nature: certainly not below state or province level. Kew does collect UK regional floras and this policy is now essential in support of the Seed Conservation Department's work at Wakehurst Place. Departments other than the Herbarium are not covered by this agreement and consequently the library does buy across all subject areas at the request of its staff.

Materials are acquired by gift, exchange or purchase: incoming items are screened before accessioning takes place. We have exchange arrangements with 263 institutions in 70 countries. Materials are generally postgraduate level or above. There are no restrictions on language or country of origin and items are collected in whatever format they are issued: books, serials, microforms, CD-ROMs and other electronic media, videotapes and audiotapes. Antiquarian materials are purchased only to fill gaps in the collection and are subject to funds being available. The Library maintains a list of booksellers specialising in botany and horticulture. If you would like a copy, please send an email with the subject heading 'Booksellers list' to Fiona Ainsworth.

History of the Library

Early history

Until 1852 there was no formal Library at Kew although from 1846 the Treasury allowed an annual grant of £10 towards the purchase of books for students. Before that time the first unofficial Director, Sir Joseph Banks (until 1820), and later William T. Aiton (until 1841) and the first official Director, Sir William Hooker (from 1840), made their own libraries available for use.

In 1852 the Reverend William A. Bromfield bequeathed his herbarium and well-chosen library of about 600 volumes and accommodation was made available on the ground floor of Hunter House at the front of the present complex of herbarium and library buildings. In 1854 George Bentham presented his library of 1,200 standard texts and in 1866 (following his death in 1865) Sir William Hooker's library and correspondence were purchased for £1,000.

Hooker's library was a particularly fine one with many items purchased by him during his lifetime as diverse as Ruiz's Florae Peruvianae et Chilensis (Madrid, 1794) and Besler's Hortus eystettensis (1613) although many of those with illustrations are uncoloured working copies. Additionally, there were many items presented to him by contemporaries such as John Lindley, Robert Brown of the British Museum, Carl Blume of Leiden, and Augustin and Alphonse de Candolle of Geneva.


From the 1850s the Treasury increased the annual grant to £100 and during the 19th century many exchange agreements with the major botanical institutions were established which were consolidated with the use of the journal Kew Bulletin from its inception in 1887. These brought a full range of scientific journals to Kew - a number of these agreements (such as with Paris, Leiden, New York and others) are still in force today.

An impetus for the acquisition of finer volumes in the Library which were beyond the purchase grant provided by the Treasury resulted from the establishment of the Bentham-Moxon Trust founded initially with money bequeathed by George Bentham in 1884 and augmented by funds from Miss M. L. Moxon and A. E. Moxon in 1931. The Trust purchased extensively on behalf of the Library including:

Edouard Morren's Bromeliaceae drawings  [1887]
Mycological works from the Library of M. C. Cooke [1894]
Fuch's De historia stirpium (1551) [1898]
Redouté's Choix des plus belles fleurs (1827-33) [1909]
Lady Barkly's Orchidaceae drawings [1918]
Tankerville collection of flower drawings including some by G. D. Ehret and Margaret Meen [1932]

How you can help

You can make a valuable contribution to the Library by sponsoring the purchase of new books, and helping Kew to provide botanical knowledge for the world.

Books purchased through your gifts may be embellished with a bookplate acknowledging your generosity as well as commemorating a special occasion or remembering a loved one. Donors are also invited to the Library to see the books they have donated.

Support Kew by dedicating a book or sponsoring an artwork