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Caird Library
(National Maritime Museum)



The Library


Anyone interested in the sea, ships, time, astronomy and the people involved with them, will find this reference library at Greenwich awash with information.  It is at the National Maritime Museum, and within the Greenwich World Heritage site, so there is a lot more to see when you visit.


The entrance to the reading room is a rotunda designed by Lutyens which contains a bust of Sir James Caird, the Museum’s principal benefactor.  The library beyond, fitted in light oak, is a fine place for browsing, with some 20,000 books, periodicals, etc on display.   Most are in glass-fronted cases, some on open shelves.


The library has over 100,000 books, pamphlets, documents, maps, charts, ship’s plans, manuscripts, personal papers and diaries and dockyard records, etc., dating from the 15th century right up to the latest periodicals.   It also acquires about 200 fresh items each month; some are new publications and some are old and out of print.  The subjects covered include history, the Royal Navy, merchant shipping, ships crews and owners, navigation, horology, astronomy, lighthouses, harbours and docks, inland waterways, smuggling and a host of other topics.   We were fascinated by the collection of biographies, where Admiral Togo joins Horatio Nelson, Bismark, and the ‘Man who lost America’.


The staff are proud of the library’s role in research, and its involvement in important projects.   The ships’ logs preserved here are providing weather details that, when converted into modern terms, allow the “Climatological Database for the World’s Oceans” to reach back 150 years before instruments became the main source of such data.   But you don’t need an “ology” to benefit from this library; the staff are always ready to help with more modest research.   If you are looking for that sea-faring ancestor they might be able to help you find the crew lists telling you where he sailed, and suggest other places with mariners’ records to help your research.


Laptop computers can be used and some of the desks have power points for them.


Finding  and ordering what you want


The library and manuscript catalogue is on the Internet at the address below, and also on terminals in the museum and library.


Some of the books in the library are on open shelves, and the staff will provide you with anything that catches your eye in the glass-fronted cabinets.    But, the reading room holds only about 20% of the library’s resources, so you may need to find what you want in the catalogue and complete a simple request form to ask for other material.   If it is stored on site this will probably be soon delivered, but if it is stored somewhere else it can take up to 2 weeks to arrive.   The catalogue has some advice on where items are held, but if you are looking for particular items it might be best to find them in the internet catalogue before visiting, and arrange by telephone for them to be waiting when you arrive.


Visiting the library


The library is free and open to all over the age of 18.   It is in the museum, the main entrance to which is in Romney Road.   You need to get a (free) ticket for entry to the museum before going up to the library on the Mezzanine floor of level 2 (1st floor).   There is a lift near the staircase.


You can get a Day Pass or Reader’s Ticket by completing a short application form and showing proof of identity at an enquiry desk outside the reading room.   A staff member will let you into the reading room. The staff like to emphasise that this is a research library and for reference only


You cannot take bags, coats etc into the reading room.   Leave them in one of the lockers by the admission desk (operated by a £1 coin which is returned when you leave).


E Library


Just outside the reading room 10 public computer terminals are provided so that anyone can use the museum and library’s websites.   These include copies of pictures in the museum collection, but unfortunately only at a remarkably small size - far too small to pick up worthwhile detail.


These terminals are particularly suitable for children - you do not need a reader's ticket to use them.




There are two websites.   One for the Caird Library has the on-line catalogue and the other, called "PORT", gives on-line guides for researchers and links to other useful web sites.   The addresses for these are below.



Open:  Tuesday - Friday, 10.00 am to 4.45 pm
10.00 am to 4.45 pm by appointment only
Closed Bank holidays and third week in February
Telephone: 020-8312  6528/6673
Address: The Caird Library, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London SE10 9NE See map below.
"PORT" site:
DLR: Cutty Sark
Rail: Greenwich, then a bus or a rather long walk.
Bus: 177, 180, 188, 199, 286, 386; mobility buses: 851, 852, 853, 856
River: Any boat to Greenwich Pier, then a 10 minute walk.







Anne Bennet     Alan Dove    March 2004