Feb 062014

This is the fourth in the series of guest posts written by one of SUNCAT’s Contributing Libraries. Ben Smith, who is Information Assistant in Technical Services at the British Architectural Library, writes about the library and its collections.

Royal Institute of British Architects: British Architectural Library

Interior of the British Architects Library, Royal Institute of British Architects

Interior of the British Architects Library, Royal Institute of British Architects.

In 1834 the Royal Institute of British Architects was formed as a professional body for British architects. As befitting the objective of being a learned society, great attention was given to founding a library and museum; primarily through the donation of books and artefacts from its members.

Since then the British Architectural Library of the RIBA has grown to hold one of the most important architectural collections in the world. Alongside 1.5 million photographs and an equivalent amount of drawings the library holds 150,000 books and 2000 periodicals. The earliest material dates from the 15th century.

The library is a resource for any researcher wishing to further understand architecture and the built environment, be it specific to a building, or in a wider sense.

What is collected?

Books The book collection of the BAL is a unique collection covering all architectural fields, both historic and new; the earliest printed book being Saint Thomas Aquinas’s ‘Summa theologica’ from 1478.

Pamphlets The collection contains over 20,000 pamphlets and items of ephemera related to specific buildings, exhibitions or official reports. These items are predominantly of British origin and date back to the early years of the 19th century.

Photographs The Robert Elwall Photographs Collection is the largest collection of architectural photographs in the world. It is a growing collection and forms the basis of many exhibitions at the RIBA and external institutions.

Archives RIBA’s archives, which are kept at the Reading Rooms of the Victoria and Albert Museum, entail around 1.5 million items, including: press cutting, architects’ personal papers and the RIBA’s own administrative archive. The collection holds items dating from the 17th century to the present day.


A selection of periodicals found at the British Architectural Library, Royal Institute of British Architects.

A selection of periodicals found at the British Architectural Library, Royal Institute of British Architects

The BAL collects the world’s major architectural journals covering all aspects of architecture and related fields. The collection dates back to the mid-19th century.  Library staff have been indexing articles in many architectural publications for around 100 years. These records are easily searchable using our online catalogue.

For journals published outside the UK, the Library subscribes to representative examples in as many languages and from as many countries as is feasible. The collection is a record of the latest developments in the field.

There are also freely available e-journal resources, including many of the printed titles held in the Library.


The library is open to all and free to use. If you are unable to visit the library, a remote copying service is also offered. Further information concerning access and opening hours can be found here, in addition staff will be happy to answer any enquiries sent to: info@riba.org


SUNCAT would like to thank Ben Smith for writing this post. If you would like to write a post on your SUNCAT Contributing Library and its serials collections please let us know.



 February 6, 2014  Posted by at 3:32 pm Contributing Libraries Tagged with:  Add comments

  2 Responses to “SUNCAT feature library: Royal Institute of British Architects”

  1. Dear sir/madam,

    A small question about the article above: who is the photographer of the picture of the interior? I would like to use the image in a book publication and want to verify the clearance of the copyrights. Thank you.

    Max van der Westerlaken

    • Dear Max,

      Thanks for your enquiry. We have been in touch with RIBA and have passed it on to them. You should hear back from them shortly.

      With regards,
      Celia (SUNCAT Team)

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