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Archives and Special Collections: Sources for Local and Family History: Printed Material

Our collections

A definition of “Local studies” is that they are characterised by a breadth of subject areas, and by an extensive, open-ended time frame which reflects the ongoing growth and development both of the local region, and of research interests. So local studies should encompass the past, and also be concerned with records of contemporary society to further knowledge on all aspects of regional life, historical or current. The common denominator between items in any local studies collection is geographical, but as well as a physical area, such a collection should also include items on its prominent families and individuals. The types of materials which are acquired for local history collections are often diverse and will generally include official publications, items of general interest, and unpublished materials and memorabilia. They are not, then, strictly academic collections and appeal to both academic and public users conducting different levels of research.

Durham University Library and Collections’ Local Studies Collection is available in the Barker Research Library on the open shelves, and may be consulted by academic and public users. All items are reference only and the collection is not borrowable as a primary purpose is to support research into the Archives and Special Collections. Some duplicate borrowable items are held at the Bill Bryson Library. The open access material is generally post 1860, while earlier items, plus particularly important, vulnerable or fragile items, are kept in the strongrooms. These items have to be ordered for consultation in the search room in the Barker Research Library.

The Local Studies Collection contains items which have particular relevance to Durham (City/County/Diocese/Cathedral/University/), and also items relating to the geographical area roughly defined by the historic counties of Northumberland, Cumberland, Westmorland and the North Riding of Yorkshire. Items relate, completely or partially, to somewhere, something or someone (historically or currently) within this local area. In addition, items may have been written/compiled by a local author. The collection contains mainly printed works, including pamphlets, monographs, newspapers, serials (periodicals, journals), sale and exhibition catalogues, directories, poll books, sermons, maps, and other miscellaneous publications, along with some non-published items. Some of the materials are scarce items and others are unique to Durham University Library and Collections. Some items are duplicated in other Library collections at Palace Green Library (e.g. Routh).

The Local Collection can be searched for on the Library Catalogue. In the vicinity of the search room are finding aids and reference materials to help customers locate items. Readers might find it helpful to read information concerning using the search room and ASC collections before they visit the Library.

Everything within the Local Collection was given the classmark prefix L. Locations are then specified according to material type, as shown in the table below:


Material type Shelfmark
Monographs (books) L
Oversize monographs L+ (previously LL and LLL)
Pamphlets PamL
Oversize pamphlets PamL+
Journals Per Local
Special Collections monographs and journals XL and XLL
Oversize Special Collections monographs and journals         XL
Special Collections pamphlets PamXL
Oversize Special Collections pamphlets PamXLL


The XL and XLL and PamXL PamXLL sequences are now closed and material is added to the standard special collections printed sequence (SC and SC+; PamSC and PamSC+). All the very large material is now in SC++ or plan chests.

This link lists all the local material in special collections, and can be used as a basis in which to search more specifically.

Listed below are some specialist guides to local material:

H. R. Klieneberger, Durham elections: a list of material relating to Parliamentary elections in Durham, 1675-1874 (1956).
A.I. Doyle and E. Rainey, Two centuries of the Durham book trade, c.1650-1850: an exhibition in Durham University Library (1990).
D. Pearson, Durham bookbinders and booksellers, 1660-1760, Oxford Bibliographical Society Occasional Publications, 19 (1986).

For County Durham printed maps and topographical prints produced before 1860, see

Availability online (digital images)

These collections have not been digitised, so that only the catalogues are currently available online.

If you would like to purchase digital copies of specific items from any of our collections, please get in touch.

If you are a member of teaching staff at Durham University and would like to use material from Archives and Special Collections within your lectures or seminars, we may be able to scan or photograph items for this purpose.  Please contact us as early as possible with any teaching digitisation requests.

See also our guide to Digitised Collections Online for further information on our digital resources.

Access to original sources

Our collections are at one of three sites.

  • Palace Green Library: open Monday to Friday (appointments recommended - required during April and May, see below), 10am to 4:30pm
  • 5 The College: access is currently limited. Please submit an enquiry form for further details.
  • Ushaw College Library:  access is currently limited. Please submit an enquiry form for further details.

For further details, see our guide to Visiting us in person.  To make an appointment, please use our enquiry form.  Please give three working days notice for appointments and include a full list of document references or shelfmarks so that we can best enable your research access.

See information on Using Our Collections for further information on accessing our collections and on our facilities and services.

Due to essential works, there will be a period of restricted access to the Archives and Special Collections throughout April and May. Details of opening times can be found in our Library Sites guide.

Where to start

Sources elsewhere