The BMI Library

The BMI Library, traces its origins back to 1779, when button manufacturer John Lee, founded it.  Today, it is located at the BMI. This private lending library was categorised in 1781 by Dr Joseph Priestley. We still use the Priestley categorisation system to this day. The library moved into a purpose-built location on Union Street in 1797 where it remained for just over a century until it moved to its present location on Margaret Street in 1899.

The Library became part of the The Birmingham & Midland Institute in 1955, and in 1966 the Institute moved to Margararet Street, as its Paradise Street premises were subject to a compulsory purchase order.  They were subsequently demolished.

The library’s collections are being steadily increased by the generous bequests of books. We are focusing on local history, poetry and 18th – 19th century manuscripts. We are proud and happy to support the research of PhD and other students; we foster links with local universities and colleges.

The Library has a total holding of over 120,000 books including:

  • Copies of The Owl and The Dart, Birmingham-based satirical and investigative journals of the 19th and 20th century.
  • 18th century volumes from the earliest years of the library.
  • 19th and 20th century purchases, including books on history, literature, natural history, science and travel
  • Late 19th and early 20th century novels and detective fiction
  • Over 6000 biographies and autobiographies
  • Over 3000 CDs of classical music

The Library collection is being steadily increased by the regular purchase of new books, principally in the fields of art, science, poetry and modern fiction. It is also home to the Deeley Collection; a bequest from the estate of a former Member, Robert Deeley. It consists of books in the fields of Architecture, Church History, Landscape, Archaeology and Topography, and is housed separately from the main library. It may be accessed by arrangement with Honorary Librarian. The Library continues, as it has in the past, to benefit from gifts and bequests made to it by generous members.

Please direct specific enquiries about our library collection to and one of our volunteers will contact you.



The Library is a facility available for use by BMI Members only; they may borrow books and CDs free of charge. Membership starts at £15.00 (per year) – see our Membership page to learn more.

Researchers And Academics

We encourage researchers, practitioners and academics to access our unique collection of historic books, journals and magazines which date back to the 18th century. Non-members can access the library for a fee of £5 (£3 Concession) for research. Contact Samina on

You may read more about the Birmingham Library and research in this guide by BMI Honorary Secretary Dr Serena Trowbridge.

Library Blog

The Library is supported by our energetic team of volunteers! Hear about what they’ve been getting up to via their blog here.

Want To Volunteer?

We’re always looking for enthusiastic people to join our team of volunteers! Contact Samina and we will have a chat!

Contact Us

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