The Birmingham & Midland Institute – home of the SHA’s Sir Robert Ball Library

Review of Service

The SHA’s Library Service is currently under review by library staff in consultation with the SHA Council.  Please note that the lending service is currently suspended during the review.  Any information given here is therefore subject to change.  If in doubt, please contact the staff by email to:  library@shastro.org.uk

The SHA Library Service and its Resources

The SHA Library Service exists primarily as a resource for members of the Society for the History of Astronomy.  Managed and run by unpaid volunteers, it is dedicated to helping help SHA members in their researches and to assisting them in increasing their knowledge of, and enjoyment in, the history of astronomy.  Its acquisitions reflect members’ interests, insofar as funds and donations allow.

The Sir Robert Ball Library, which is the home of the library service, is located at the Birmingham and Midland Institute (see further details below) and currently offers the following:

  • Books, journals, AV material, and reprints.
  • The services of volunteer staff, by arrangement.
  • Access to a computer, printer, and scanner (but no internet connection).
  • Photocopying (A4, black and white).

Location and access

The Sir Robert Ball Library is located in the Benson Room at the Birmingham and Midland Institute (BMI), 9 Margaret Street, Birmingham, B3 3BS, England  (see: http://www.bmi.org.uk/ for a location map etc). Located in Birmingham city centre, the BMI is within a 10 minute walk from Birmingham New Street and Snow Hill railway stations.

Access is currently by arrangement only with the Librarian (although regular opening at least monthly is hoped for from 2016) and is supervised by SHA volunteer staff.  The Library is securely double locked and intruder-alarmed.

Toilets are nearby in the bvuilding, and there is a café on-site.  There is, however, no on-site car park, though paid on-street parking may be available in the area.

Library Opening

It is hoped to open on a regular basis, possibly monthly, in 2016. Details will be posted here in due course.  Currently, opening is on a by arrangement basis. If you are a member of the SHA and you wish to use the library, please arrange a visit in advance with library staff by email:  library@shastro.org.uk

History of the SHA Library

The original SHA Library (as it then was) came into being in June 2002 when the Society was founded.  Its first, and then only, Librarian was Madeline Cox, FRAS, who set up and organised the Society’s Lending Library, based at her home and operating by post.

In 2004, premises were kindly made available in the Benson Room at the Birmingham & Midland Institute for a Reference Library, which was subsequently named the Sir Robert Ball Library (SRBL) after a Past President of the BMI who was also a well-known Victorian astronomer, author and lecturer.

The Lending Library, which remained separate, was re-named the Sir Patrick Moore Library, and so the SHA Library Service then comprised two distinct libraries run by volunteer staff.

The SRBL was placed under the management of Stuart Williams, who was then founding Secretary of the SHA and later also its Research Librarian, and was initially set up by Stuart, working closely with then Survey Coordinator Roger Jones (who was until late 2014 also an Assistant Librarian, and sadly passed away in 2015), under the oversight of Madeline Cox, who subsequently became Chair of the SHA’s newly-formed Library Committee.

In late 2007, re-organisation and expansion of the SHA Library Service was planned and as a result Madeline Cox became Head Librarian.

In early 2008, it was decided to reunite the lending and reference libraries at the BMI, to make them more accessible to members and others.  At the same time, fixed opening days ceased and access to the reunited library was made available by arrangement only.  The two libraries, although in the same room, were still managed separately.  But it was becoming increasingly clear that it would be more logical to merge the whole operation of these two libraries.  This would reflect the practicalities and broad range of the work being done by the team of volunteer library staff.

In January 2009, therefore, it was decided to fully merge the two libraries.  The SHA’s library overall would continue to be known as The Sir Robert Ball Library.  Within the SRBL, The Sir Patrick Moore Library became The Sir Patrick Moore Collection, acting as the Lending Section of the SRBL.  The rest of the SRBL’s several Collections (see below), comprising the bulk of its holdings, are for reference only.

In January 2015, the SHA’s founding Librarian, Madeline Cox, FRAS, sadly passed away, and Stuart Williams was appointed SHA Librarian, to manage the library and undertake a review of the service.


At the 21 November 2015 SHA Council meeting it was confirmed that James Dawson would take over as SHA Librarian as soon as possible, with the assistance of Carolyn Bedwell as an Assistant Librarian.  All emails sent to library@shastro.org.uk will therefore now be received by James.

Stuart Williams will continue to work at the Sir Robert Ball Library in order to finish work there that he has in progress, and to act as an advisor, but will be concluding his work there not later than the end of March 2016, unless otherwise notified here.


For general enquiries about the SHA Library Service and the Sir Robert Ball Library, please contact James Dawson.   For Survey enquiries only, please see the separate but linked Survey of Astronomical History site.


The Sir Robert Ball Library currently comprises seven collections:

  • General Collection – historic and modern books and AV items for reference only.
  • Reference Collection – encyclopedias, dictionaries, etc for reference only.
  • The Stuart Williams Collection – historic and modern books, including space exploration,  for reference only.
  • The Alan Cox Memorial Collection of Amateur Astronomy – historic and modern books on amateur astronomy.
  • Journals – a major collection of historic and modern scholarly astronomical journals and magazines.
  • The Sir Patrick Moore Collection – mainly modern books for lending to SHA members only.
  • Miscellaneous – reprints, leaflets and other misc items.

See below for a full catalogue and library manual.

Catalogue and Library Manual

Since the two libraries were reunited at the BMI in 2008, a Union Catalogue covering the contents of both was, until 2015, compiled by the late Head Librarian Madeline Cox.  A printed copy was issued free of charge to SHA members in 2009.

A considerable amount of work is currently being done to update the Catalogue after the receipt of a number of large donations of books, and more news will be released about this in the first half of 2016.  Updated versions of the Catalogue in pdf form will be published here as they are made available.

You can download the current update of the Library Manual plus Catalogue in MS Word and pdf formats from the following link:

SHA Library Manual and Catalogue Oct 2014 (Word)

SHA Library Manual and Catalogue Oct 2014 (pdf)


This document is © copyright of the SHA but may be freely downloaded and referred to or printed off for non-commercial reference and research purposes.  It may not be sold, , published, edited or given away in printed form, without permission.

Organisations, educational establishments and institutions are welcome to print the SHA Library Manual & Catalogue off for reference in their libraries as long as all pages are made available as a complete issue.


Photographs of the Library and past Staff

Stuart Williams (SHA Librarian) uses the library’s previous staff laptop and laser printer/copier
The late Madeline Cox (founding and Head Librarian) views the SHA Survey (left) and General Collection

The late Roger Jones studies a scientific journal – these shelves are now full!

The late Madeline Cox browses the Sir Patrick Moore Collection (lending library)

Comments are closed.


Welcome to the website of the Society for the History of Astronomy.

For the latest news from the SHA, click on the News menu above. For our Facebook and Twitter pages, please click on the buttons below.

Insert your email address in the box below then click the button to subscribe to emailed news.

Like us on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 796 other followers