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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 Library and Archive Service has a unique collection of books and archive materials on British nurses and nursing.

Our collections date from the 1870s to the present day. They capture the evolution and development of nursing through the 20th-21st Centuries.

Royal College of Nursing Archive

The corporate archive of the Royal College of Nursing represents a century of records detailing the work of the College as a professional association and trade union.

From the first days of the College as an advocate for professionalism and nursing education to its later years of campaigning and negotiating as the voice of British nursing, the archive holds the written record.

More on the Royal College of Nursing Archive

Oral History collection

A collection of over 700 oral history interviews with nurses.  

Most interviews have transcriptions and summaries. See the Archives Catalogue for more detail.

Available for reference, by appointment, in Edinburgh and in the RCN Library and Heritage Centre. Find out more about our oral history collection.

Florence Nightingale Foundation Scholars' Reports collection

The Florence Nightingale Foundation awards scholarships to nurses to carry out study visits overseas. The collection contains over 440 reports from 1990 onwards. The reports provide comparisons between UK and international nursing practice.

Historical nursing journals

Our collection of Historical Nursing Journals is a great resource for nursing and healthcare research. There are over 250 English language titles from all over the world dating from 1888-1987. 

You can search the journal finder for our historical journal titles and details on how to make an appointment to view the journals at the RCN library and heritage centre.

One of the rarest historical nursing journals from the collections has been digitised. The Nursing Record was published from 1888 to 1956, changing its name in 1902 to The British Journal of Nursing. You can search this title here.

More on the Historical Nursing Journals

Florence Nightingale collections

These two collections of unique material are closely connected with Florence Nightingale.

The book collection contains 25 books from Florence Nightingale's personal library, dating from 1841.

More on the Florence Nightingale Book Collections

In the letters and pamphlets collection are letters handwritten by Florence Nightingale between 1855 and 1902. The collection also contains contemporary pamphlets and reports which she influenced.

More on the Florence Nightingale Letters and Pamphlets Collections

Permanent printed collection

Explore the most comprehensive collection of English language nursing titles in Europe. The collection contains over 8500 books and other printed material dating from 1870.

More on the Permanent Collection

Lucy Seymer was a prominent nursing historian who left her personal library to the Royal College of Nursing.

More on the Lucy Seymer Collection

Cecilia Cory was a founding member of the College who left a memorial fund to purchase books for the Library.

More on the Cecilia Cory Collection

Steinberg collection

The Steinberg Collection is a central reference collection of nursing theses.

The collection contains over 1500 doctoral theses, dating from 1958.

More on the Steinberg Collection

Badges and medals

The nursing or hospital badge is a very popular item. Our collections contain over 8,000 badges of individual nurses donated to the Royal College of Nursing.

More on the Badge and medal collections.

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)

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)

Rare books

Our collection of over 100 rare and unique books covers a range of topics relating to early nursing and health care. The collection contains books published from 1614 to 1870.

More on the Rare Books

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

Please contact the Archives for more information.

Collections of nurses' personal papers

This is a collection which has grown substantially since the establishment of the Royal College of Nursing Archive in 1986. Nurses and their families have donated personal records to the College which has created a pool of evidence about nurses’ real lives and careers dating back to the nineteenth century.

More on the Collections of nurses' personal papers

RCN publications

Dating from 1919 and representing England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, a reference collection of documents, pamphlets and books published by the RCN, covering nursing policy and education, clinical, legal and ethical guidance, annual reports and promotional literature.

More on the RCN Publications

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. along with our accompanying family history guide.

Video and film collection

Video recordings, dating from the late 1970s, on nurse training, clinical practice and the nursing profession. 

The collection includes two major series produced by the RCN in the 1990s.

More on the video and film collection

The Study of Nursing Care - RCN Research Series

1966-1972 - The Study of Nursing Care

In 1966, the RCN was invited by the Ministry of Health to undertake studies to develop the quality of nursing care. "The study of Nursing Care" research project includes seminal works such as The Unpopular Patient by Felicity Stockwell, plus 2 reports reviewing the series. You can find all of the published works available for free online.

1973-1994 - RCN Research reports

Commissioned in 1973, the RCN research reports consists of 57 papers published with the aim to encourage the appreciation and dissemination of high quality studies to the nursing profession. You can find a full list of the collection here and details on how to make an appointment to view the journals at the RCN library and heritage centre.

More on the Study of Nursing Care - RCN Research Series