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Wellcome Library

Institution Details

Wellcome Library

Location in the UK

London & South East

Description of Collections


The focus of the Wellcome Library is medical history, but, medical history being part of social history, the scope of the Library is wide ranging and includes almost every area of human endeavour including anthropology, ethnography, natural history, topography, and travel. It includes extensive collections of printed books, manuscripts (oriental and western), archives, paintings, prints, drawings, photographs and moving-image films. It also includes an information service relating to contemporary biomedical science.

The Library preserves a book stock of over 600,000 volumes of which some 66,000 date from before 1851 with over 600 incunabula and extensive collections of books in oriental scripts. The library holds several thousand western manuscripts dating from mediaeval times to the 19th century with some 600 collections of archival papers. The iconographic collections comprise over 100,000 prints, drawings, photographs, films and paintings. The Wellcome Library is particularly strong in oriental manuscripts ranging from pharaonic Egypt to the 19th century in all the major languages and in many minor languages of Asia in number c. 12,000. Material relevant to Asian studies may be found in almost all the library's collections of books manuscripts, archives and iconographic materials.

For further information see :- "Pearls of the Orient : Asian Treasures from the Wellcome Library" edited by Nigel Allan. London & Chicago : Serindia Publications, 2003.

History & development

The Wellcome Library is based on the collections of Sir Henry Wellcome (1853-1936), the American pharmacist and philanthropist, and is supported by the Wellcome Trust. Until October 2000 it formed part of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, but since then, the teaching and research side of the now dissolved Wellcome Institute has been formed into the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London.

User focus

The Wellcome Library is a research library, available to the public free of charge. It is an international resource for researchers and students in medical history and, in its wider context, of social history in all cultures, periods and languages in both primary and secondary sources.

Collections held in Wellcome Library

Subjects and Material Types


East Asia, Near & Middle East and North Africa, South Asia, South East Asia.


Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, China, Cyprus, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Libya, Macao, Malaysia, Malta, Mongolia, Morocco, Nepal, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Syria, Taiwan, Thailand, The Philippines, Tibet, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Yemen.

Languages of material

Amharic, Arabic, Armenian, Batak (Indonesia), Bengali, Braj, Burmese, Chinese, Coptic, Dutch, Egyptian (Ancient), English, French, Geez, Georgian, German, Greek, Modern (1453-), Gujarati, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Kannada, Konkani, Korean, Lao, Latvian, Malay, Malayalam, Manchu, Marathi, Mongolian, Newari, Oriya, Pali, Panjabi, Persian, Prakrit languages, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Spanish, Syriac, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Tibetan, Turkish, Turkish, Ottoman (1500-1928), Urdu, Uzbek, Yiddish.


Agriculture, Anthropology, Archaeology, Arts, Communication and media, Development, Economics, Education, Environmental sciences, Geography, History, Human rights, Industries, International relations, Language, Law, Literature, Medicine, Music, Philosophy, Politics and government, Recreation, Religion, Science and technology, Sociology, Travel, Women.

Languages as linguistic focus

Arabic, Burmese, Chinese, English, French, German, Greek, Modern (1453-), Hindi, Japanese, Pali, Panjabi, Persian, Prakrit languages, Sanskrit, Sinhalese, Tamil, Thai, Tibetan.

Material types

Archival materials (includes non-published & mixed material), Audio materials (includes cassettes & CDs), Books, Manuscripts, Official publications, Serials, Theses, Visual materials (includes photographs, prints, drawings, videos & films).

Management Information

The collection is being actively developed, and the average intake has stayed the same.

Annual intake

Year 1999/2000: 700 printed books relating to Asia in western and oriental languages and 20 oriental manuscripts;. 82 accessions of western manuscripts and archives with occasional items of oriental interest among them; 501 pictures including 130 of oriental subjects.

Content date range

0 to 0 AD

Interlibrary loan code


Interlibrary loan procedure

The Wellcome Library is a Reference library only, apart from ILL.

Co-operative agreements

  • Informal arrangements with British Library, Oriental & India Office Collections regarding acquisition of oriental manuscripts.
  • The Library is an Associated Institution of the School of Advanced Study, University of London, and an Associate Member of the Consortium of University Research Libraries (CURL).

Collection policy

The Wellcome Library has a collection policy for secondary post 1850 printed books which it collects to support medical history in its widest context of social history in all languages relating to every age and part of the world. Collection policies for other parts of the Library are under development.

Retention policy

Post 1850 printed books not retained include multiple copies except those of particular value or significant provenance. These are deselected, offered to other potentially interested libraries and if not required, discarded.

Catalogue Information


Uses software from Innovative Interfaces Inc. Allows searches of whole database including bibliography of works not held, or of specific sections, e.g. oriental manuscripts in particular languages only, western manuscripts and archives only, printed books only, pictures only. Contains records for most of the Library's printed books: journals and a small number of oriental printed books (still on cards) are still to be added. It includes some 50,000 records of iconographic material. A database describes the majority of western manuscripts and archives; a programme to convert old printed or typed catalogues of this material is well advanced. Where a catalogue has not yet been converted to electronic form the hard copy is available for consultation.

Catalogue transliteration

Pin yin (Chinese); Hepburn (Japanese); LC for all other printed oriental material. Published catalogues of manuscripts vary

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