arrow_up-blue blog branches consultations events facebook-icon facebook-icon2 factsheet forum-icon forum hands key link location lock mail measure menu_plus news pdf pdf2 phone policies publications related search share subjectguide twitter-icon word youtube-icon
Library Europe's largest nursing-specific collection

Special Collections

The RCN library and heritage collections are the largest of their kind in the world.

The RCN collections represent the largest nursing specific resource in the world.

From the archive to our contemporary publications, you can access information in print and electronic formats.

Permanent printed collection

The Permanent Collection held at the Royal College of Nursing comprises publications dating from 1870 to date on nursing; nursing education; nursing history; biographies; textbooks on aspects of nursing care and clinical practice; legal and ethical aspects of nursing; nursing research; nursing philosophy; nursing leadership, pamphlets and reports; nursing memoirs, biographies and autobiographies; and publications written by Fellows of the Royal College of Nursing.

Titles published before 1870 can be found in the RCN Rare Books Collection: The date 1870 has been chosen since the 1870s saw the rise of the Nursing School as advocated by Florence Nightingale, and there was a significant increase in the number of nursing specific texts made available to trainee nurses. From 1870 onwards authors, such as Honor Morten, met the need for nursing textbooks and popular titles soon became issued as new editions in response to changes in nursing education and practice. Key textbooks continue to be edited and republished on a (bi) annual basis. The four branches of nursing (Adult, Child, Mental Health, Nursing Disability) were quickly established and texts produced to support these areas. In addition specialist nursing areas, such as theatre nursing became standard topics for publishers specialising in nursing practice.

The collection is the most comprehensive collection of (English language) nursing titles and represents the breadth and depth of nursing in all its forms.

Available for reference, by appointment, in the RCN Library and Heritage Centre.

RCN publications

The Royal College of Nursing Publications Collection, held at the Royal College of Nursing, comprises publications dating from 1919 to date, published by the RCN. The major subjects covered are nursing policy; nursing education; nursing research; clinical practice guidelines; legal and ethical guidance; conference proceedings; statistical reports; promotional literature; annual reports. Geographically, these represent England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Prior to the creation of NICE in 1999 (SIGN in 2011), the RCN also published clinical standards. The Royal College of Nursing is a prolific producer of information resources for nurses, in its roles as Professional Association and Trade Union. Publications range from leaflets and flyers to full reports and book publications.

Please note that this collection is separate from RCN commercial publications, such as Nursing Standard, which have been produced separately and as at 2016 were produced under the umbrella of RCNi.

Available for reference, by appointment, in the RCN Library and Heritage Centre.

Nursing registers

This RCN collection includes registers from across the UK and covers the General Nursing Councils from 1921 (GNC), the Burdett’s Directories from 1898, and the Royal College of Nursing members register (1916-1923). 

These registers have been digitised and are available via Ancestry.com with our family history guide available here.

Royal College of Nursing Archive 1916 - present

The records of the Royal College of Nursing from over 40 different departments, and from across the 4 countries of the United Kingdom since its establishment in 1916. The RCN Archive holds the strategic minutes and papers of the organisation as well as details on its activities, from fundraising to delivering educational courses.

Search the Archives Catalogue (Ref No = RCN*)

The Study of Nursing Care - RCN Research Series

The research project "The study of Nursing Care" was set up in the late 1960s in response to a need to establish criteria or standards of quality of nursing care.

In 1966 the Royal College of Nursing was invited by the then Ministry of Health to undertake studies to develop measures of the quality of nursing care, with the Ministry of health meeting all the expenses associated with the project for 6 years.

Fieldwork was halted in December 1972 in order to complete publication of the 12 individual studies that make up the series and to bring the SNC project to a formal conclusion. The studies include seminal works such as The Unpopular Patient by Felicity Stockwell, plus 2 reports reviewing the series.

Available online and for reference, by appointment, in the RCN Library and Heritage Centre.

Florence Nightingale collection

Contains handwritten letters from Florence Nightingale. It also includes letters to Florence from her contemporaries, reports which Florence influenced, and pamphlets about her life.

This collection has been digitised and is available via the Florence Nightingale Digitisation Project

Florence Nightingale book collection

The Florence Nightingale Collection held at the Royal College of Nursing comprises books belonging to Florence Nightingale, her family and descendants. Some are signed or annotated by Florence Nightingale or contain inscriptions from the authors to her.

Titles include 'Notes on Nursing', her annotated copy of 'The Bible', and 'The Water-Babies'. The collection was donated to the Royal College of Nursing by her relation, Sibella Bonham Carter (1899-2005)

Available for reference, by appointment, in the RCN Library and Heritage Centre.

Historical nursing journals

The Historical Nursing Journals Collection, held at the Royal College of Nursing, comprises holdings of over 250 English language nursing journals dating from 1888 to 1987.

The journals in the collection include the UK journals : Nursing Record (1888-1902), Nursing Notes & Midwives' Chronicle (1891-1945), Nursing Times (1905-1987), British Journal of Nursing (1902-1954), Nursing Mirror (1907-1985), British Journal of Occupational Therapy (1888-1956), Nightingale Fellowship Journal (1929-1987), Catholic Nurse (1944-1985);

US journals : American Journal of Nursing (1900-1983), Public Health Nursing (1931-1952); Trained Nurse (1889-1950);

Commonwealth journals : Canadian Nurse (1921-1987), Jamaican Nurse (1961-1986), Kenya Nursing Journal (1972-1987), New Zealand Nursing Journal (1933-1987), Nursing Journal of India (1946-1987).

The collection constitutes a rich resource for the research of health care, the nursing profession and nursing practice in the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and the United States from the late 19th century to the 1980s.

RCN Research Series - 1973-1994

A portfolio of 57 research reports, commissioned and published by the RCN, with the aim of encouraging the appreciation and dissemination of high quality studies to the nursing profession. 

RCN Research Series details


Available for reference, by appointment, in the RCN Library and Heritage Centre.

Lucy Seymer collection

Lucy Ridgely Seymer M.A., S.R.N. was a registered nurse and a noted historian of nursing, author of works including 'A General History of Nursing' (1932) and editor of a volume of the writings of Florence Nightingale.

The collection consists of books from the personal library of Lucy Seymer, donated upon her death to the Royal College of Nursing. Books in the collection were published from 1637 to 1964 and include religious texts, memoirs of First World War nurses, nursing history, medical history, biography, and nursing fiction. Primarily an English language collection, there are a small number of books written in French, Finnish, Czech and Swedish.

Available for reference, by appointment, in the RCN Library and Heritage Centre.

Personal papers

Individual nurses and their families have donated their personal papers to the RCN. The collection includes certificates, notebooks, lecture notes, research, memoirs and correspondence. The papers date mainly from the 20th century and come from around the world.

Search the Archives Catalogue (Ref No = C*)

Badges and medals

Contains nursing and hospital badges, awards and medals. The collection also includes belt buckles, epaulets, buttons and other nursing uniform accessories. Nurses and their families have donated these items to the RCN. Related to this collection:

Meglaughlin Badges and Medals Collection (nursing association and organisational badges, hospital badges, military service badges and war medals)

Biley Badge Collection (nursing and hospital badges).

Search the Archive catalogue (Any Text = badge).

Oral History collection

A collection of oral history interviews with nurses.  A Heritage Lottery fund grant supported the digitisation and transcription of the collection. Volunteers at Edinburgh-based charity the Living Memory Association helped with this work.

Most interviews have transcriptions and summaries.

Search the Archives Catalogue (Ref No = T)

Available for reference, by appointment, in Edinburgh and in the RCN Library and Heritage Centre.

Photographic collection

Mainly black and white prints showing nurses, nursing and hospitals. Most of the photographs are from the 1900s to 1980s in Britain, with some overseas images included. Many are associated with Personal Paper collections.

Partially catalogued and digitised. Images are available in the Archive catalogue (search Any Text = photograph)

Postcard collection

Postcards of portraits of nurses; First World War cartoons; interiors and exteriors of hospitals; military hospitals; overseas hospitals and fund-raising cards. Some of the cards are unused, but many have been written and are postmarked and have stamps attached.

Search the Archives catalogue (Any Text = postcard)

Records of other nursing organisations

A collection of papers from other UK nursing organisations. This includes the Queens Nursing Institute Scotland.

Search the Archives catalogue (Ref No = QNIS*)

Please contact the Archives for more information.

Rare books

The Rare Books Collection held at the Royal College of Nursing comprises books published before 1870, and a small number of unique items of later publication. The date 1870 has been chosen since the 1870s saw the rise of the Nursing School as advocated by Florence Nightingale, and there was a significant increase in the number of nursing specific texts made available to trainee nurses. Nursing specific texts before 1870 are rare and there is not the same consistency of subject matter which is seen later with the rise in standardised training and curriculum.

The collection includes material on nursing care, clinical practice, nursing history, monastic history and the Crimean War. The small number of items that date from post 1870 include some titles by Florence Nightingale, and the 'Deaths of British, Irish and Dominion nurses : world war one and world war two. Roll of honour' by Yvonne McEwen (2010). Topics focus on nursing education, public health; household and popular herbal remedies (such as Culpeper); studies in healthcare provision in different countries; specific diseases such as plague and cholera; midwifery and children's health; provision of healthcare by religious orders (Christian).

There are also a small number of biographical titles relating to women-leaders, such as Elizabeth Fry. Specific titles include some iconic nursing titles such as 'Wonderful adventures of Mrs. Seacole in many lands' by Mary Seacole (1857); and 'The good nurse; or, hints on management of the sick and lying-chamber, and the nursery' by Elizabeth Hanbury (1828).

Available for reference, by appointment, in the RCN Library and Heritage Centre.

Florence Nightingale Foundation Scholars' Reports collection

The Florence Nightingale Foundation Scholars' Reports Collection held at the Royal College of Nursing comprises research reports from Florence Nightingale Foundation scholars on a range of nursing-related topics. Many are reports of study visits overseas. Only one report dates from 1980, with the surviving reports dating from the 1990s onwards.

Many of the reports are comparative studies of nursing in different countries, including within Holland, France, Germany and the wider European Union, America, Australia and Peru. There are also some reports on specific regional studies within the United Kingdom. The reports reflect an extensive range of nursing topics, such as motor neurone disease, leprosy, infection control, safeguarding or mental health. A small number of the reports focus on nursing history. Increasingly this collection reflects changes in practice over time, both clinical practice and cultural perceptions of nursing and patients.

Available for reference, by appointment, in the RCN Library and Heritage Centre.

Video and film

Videos and films relating to nursing, such as nurse training films and history of nursing. Most of the collection was donated to the RCN.

Currently uncatalogued.

Steinberg collection

The Steinberg Collection of Nursing Research, held at the Royal College of Nursing, comprises UK doctoral theses, written by nurses or about nursing.

The aim of the Steinberg Collection is to establish and maintain a comprehensive central reference collection of nursing theses at doctoral level. The collection was set up in 1974, with money donated by Jack Steinberg. A number of the theses have appeared in published form, but these are often shortened, so the Steinberg Collection allows scholars to have access to the primary research sources. Subjects with substantial coverage within the collection include clinical practice; nursing education; nursing older people; children and young people's nursing; adult nursing; mental health nursing; learning disability nursing; cancer nursing; diabetes; critical care nursing; community nursing; palliative care; maternity nursing.

Audio collection

Audio recordings of RCN events and lectures, such as RCN Congress and Annual General Meetings.

Some of this collection is catalogued.