Reading Room of Kew's main library

Using the library

Find out more about the library collections, electronic resources, the history of the library and how to arrange a visit.

During the 160 years of the library's history, material has been acquired by gift, purchase and exchange. Over 90 languages are represented, making the library a global resource for plant science, research and conservation. 

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.

Jodrell Library: This is housed in the basement of the Wolfson Wing of the Jodrell Laboratory. The Jodrell Library holds books and periodicals on plant anatomy, genetics and biochemistry, as well as material relating to British and world non-lichenized fungi and lichens.

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.

Illustrations: 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. 

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

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

Electronic resources

Electronic resources available via Kew's Library Catalogue:

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

Search Kew's Library Catalogue

Kew databases & other electronic resources

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.

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.

An ever-growing number of electronic materials can be viewed via hyperlink from within catalogue records.

Collection policy and history of the library

Download this document to find out more about our collection policy and the history of the Library:

Collection policy and history of the Library (pdf)

Visiting the Library Reading Room

Download this document to find out how to arrange a visit, to read the conditions for visitors, and see our copying charges:

Visiting the Library Reading Room (pdf)

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 sponsoring a book

Contact us

Library, Art & Archives
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Surrey TW9 3AE
Tel: +44 (0)20 8332 5414
Fax: +44 (0)20 8332 5430

Certain collections have separate email addresses and telephone numbers:

Millennium Seed Bank Library

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