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National Railway Museum Library – Search Engine

Library of the Week: 22nd August: A very exciting post this week from the National Railway Museum Library! With over 26,000 books and 800 serials the Library Collection is the UK’s most significant railway library. Find out more about in this brilliant post by Library Manager,  Karen Baker.


The National Railway Museum’s library and archive – Search Engine – is the place to come to discover how railways have shaped our world and our lives. Situated overlooking the Great Hall of the museum, Search Engine offers a welcoming and accessible space for all to use, whatever your level of railway interest. Booking in advance is not necessary for the reference-only Library Collection, you can just turn up Thursday to Saturday when we open. For more information see our Research and archive pages.


The Railway Museum opened in 1975 and the library, a year later. Its original purpose was to provide an information resource for staff but soon opened, on a limited basis, to members of the public. Demand exceeded space and in 2008, thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Search Engine library and archive opened to the public. Today, Search Engine is a busy archive accredited service welcoming over 20 thousand visitors and around 700 archive users annually. Our team of Search Engine Assistants and volunteers provide friendly advice and guidance on how to search and find the answers to your questions.

The collection

With over 26,000 books and 800 serials the Library Collection is the UK’s most significant railway library. We have the first published book on iron railways, John Curr’s Coal viewer and we have many nineteenth century publications that chart the nascent railway network and its growing impact on society and the landscape. Our collection is still growing and each year we add several hundred new titles on current and future trends in railway development as well as new historic research. The collection’s particular strengths are around engineering such as architecture, construction, vehicle development, signalling and regional railway histories. People’s stories are also strongly represented with reminiscences of workers, staff magazines, biographies, and histories of trades unions and employees all strongly documented. Railways’ cultural impact is charted through our travel books, humour and satirical works, photography and the many books we have on railway art and literature.

1997-0179_(0002) Plate II from The Coal Viewer and Engine Builder’s Companion / John Curr of Sheffield, agent to Duke of Norfolk, 1795. Ms. of printed 1797 volume.

The serials collection includes a large number of 19th century journals that cover a wide range of engineering and railway business history including substantial runs of 19th century engineering journals such as The Engineer/Engineering; Railway News, Railway Times, Herapath and Railway Chronicle. Complete runs of popular railway magazines published form the late 19th century to the present including Railway Magazine, Railway Gazette, Modern Railways and Railway World.

The collection also includes a large number of governmental publications including a collection of 1400 railway related parliamentary papers dated 1837-1906; Board of Trade/Ministry of Transport statistical railway returns published from 1858 onwards; BoT/MoT accident reports published from 1842 onwards.

Partnerships and Catalogues

The National Railway Museum is part of the Science Museum Group and together we have an unparalleled collection of objects and archives spanning science, technology, engineering, medicine and maths. Many thousand entries are searchable online.

Storytelling in Search Engine, Summer 2022 part of Gadgeteers Summer Reading Challenge

We work closely with the University of York. The University Library hosts our Library Catalogue and we have a joint initiative in the Institute of Railway Studies whose aim is in  promoting railway research, delivering public programmes and PhD opportunities.  We also support the wider museum public programme and encourage our younger visitors and their families to engage and make use of our resources. Most recently, we have been the venue for storytelling sessions that were part of the Summer Reading Challenge – Gadgeteers.

Railway worker literature exhibition in Search Engine 2021-2022

We currently have an exhibition on nineteenth century railway worker literature, inspired by the people and collections that we hold in the library. The exhibition is part of an AHRC funded research project called Piston Pen and Press which explores the literary cultures of industrial workers’ more generally.

We are always looking at ways to increase access and engagement in railways and partnership working offers opportunities we couldn’t do on our own. An example in the library is our partnership with the University of Portsmouth and Modern Records Centre around the creation of a dataset of railway worker accidents using volunteers – Railway Work Life and Death. This project is ongoing but has had many positive outputs so far, for individuals tracing family members, to lessons learnt for the railway industry and new academic understanding, blogs and articles.


The Railway Museum and Search Engine are free to enter. Search Engine’s opening days differ from the museum and it is always a good idea to check our website before making a journey. Everything you need to know about visiting Search Engine can be found on our Research and archive pages. No booking is required to access the library collection, but to consult our archives you will need to book (details in the previous link). You can also contact us at and we will do our best to help!

Karen Baker – Library Manager

Images: Science Museum Group Collection

© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

You can explore the library’s collections on Discover and find further contact details on their Discover information page.

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