With around 25 thousand books, we are one of the largest transport libraries in the country and one of the most comprehensive.

Our coverage spans the dawn of railway publishing in the late eighteenth century up to the present day. The library's strengths are in local railway and engineering history but all aspects are covered including railways in literature, biographies and railway management.

The Library Collection is searchable via our online library catalogue which is hosted by the University of York Library.

Many of the books are on open shelves in Search Engine, our library and archive centre, and freely browsable (and arranged by subject area). The remainder is in our store – the library catalogue will flag this, and staff can retrieve titles for you at regular intervals.

Rare books

Our Rare Book Collection has many historically significant items. These books will have the letter 'R' at the end if its shelf mark on the Library Catalogue and will need to be consulted in our archive research rooms.

A couple of gems from the rare book collection can be seen below:

The oldest book in the collection is John Curr's The coal viewer, and engine builder's practical companion. (Sheffield : Printed for the author by John Northall, and sold by I. & J. Taylor, London, 1797). It's not only the oldest book we have, but also the first book to print information and details on an iron railway.

This is perhaps our most unusual book in the library collection in as much as there is no obvious railway connection. It was published in 1893 by Routledge and is an example of what is known as a Yellowback. Yellowbacks were cheaply produced, usually light reading, but non-fiction and classics were also produced. They were sold from railway bookshops, most notably WHSmith from the 1840s up to the early 20th century. It's in the Library Collection as it represents the impact railways had on facilitating reading as a leisure activity for the masses. Railways not only supplied this form of cheap and available reading material, but through the expansion of the railway network made it possible for publishers to get their works to the printers and on to the shelves quickly. In addition, these Yellowbacks were picked up by passengers from the railway bookstall and then read on their train journeys. For the first time, taking a train could be a leisure activity with reading on the train something many of us still do today.

The Ways of the Line by Anna Rebecca Tregelles (published in 1858) is also worth noting. This publication details information on the lives of railway 'excavators' or navvies. Although not written by the navvies themselves (many were illiterate), it does give first-hand account on themes such as self-education, tolerance, family life, alcoholism and religion and is a vital resource for anyone wishing to find out more about this important band of workers.

Please contact staff in Search Engine if you would like to see these or any other rare book that we have.

Background: Suitcase with railway luggage labels