Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Accessing historic geological texts through on-line archives

Sometimes when photographing a fossil it helps to learn a little more about the specimen before pressing the shutter. Fortunately at British Geological Survey we are blessed with an excellent library (both traditional and electronic!), but we have found that there are other options if you are not so fortunate:

Google, and other web searches are usually good, but one needs to be careful about the accuracy of the data that comes up. Since we are dealing with type fossils, some of which were first described nearly two hundred years ago, it makes sense to consult the original description. Many of these books and journals have now gone out of copyright or have been intentionally put into the public domain by their rights owners.

So here then, is a list of the best resources we have found so far for our internet researches:

•                      Google books (
•                      The Internet Archive (
•                      Palaeontology back-issues (
•                      Biodiversity Heritage Library (
•                      Worldcat ( – also drives the search engine for the NERC library service (
•                      Open Library (
•                      Forgotten Books (
•                      Project Gutenberg (
•                      Many geological societies and other organisations also manage their own digital archives, for example, the Geological Curators Group ( makes back issues of it’s journal available on their website
•                      The Geological Society has a Virtual Library section on their website

•             and Apple iBookstore – less good for freely accessible information, but it is very often possible to buy an e-book version or even a reprint of the text you are after!

Screenshot of a page from “Catalogue of the fossil sponges in the Geological Department of the British Museum” on Biodiversity Heritage Library. Some of the specimens shown on this plate are type specimens and have been photographed as part of the JISC GB/3D Fossils Online Project
With a bit of searching and good luck, perhaps you will be able to find the historic titles you are searching for. The only danger is getting carried away in the many virtual shelves of books! Remember if you are not able to find the text you are after in digital form, you should try your local library who will be able to help you locate the nearest copy to you.

Let us know through the comments if there are any sources you use which you think we have missed.


Simon Harris


  1. Many thanks for this. I have found that the Internet Book Archive is great for early Sheet Memoirs. For instance, I have listed the ones relevant to Norfolk on the NGP website at:

  2. Hey
    Thank you for share this 3D this is really helpful especially for me thank you guy.