The Central Reference Library was founded in 1862, but was reopened in 1882 after a disastrous fire in 1879. The total stock is now estimated at about 3 million items. Five of the special collections include pre-1700 British material.
Collection 1: The Shakespeare Library currently contains about 44,000 items in 93 languages and of these approximately 110 are pre-1700 British imprints. The Cervantes collection includes 8 pre 1700 British imprints, including the first complete edition of both parts in English of Don Quixote.
Collection 2: The Milton Collection includes around 40 pre-1700 British imprints, including first editions of a number of prose works such as Areopagitica, 1644 and a late issue of the first edition of Paradise Lost, 1668.
Collection 3: The Parker Collection of Early Children's Books was given to the Reference Library in the 1950s and has been greatly enlarged by the Library since then. A notable example of a British pre-1700 imprint is Charles Hoole's Centuria epistolarum Anglo-Latinarum, a century of epistles English and Latine, 1677,'by imitation of which, children may readily get a proper style for writing letters'.
Collection 4: The Early and Fine Printing Collection includes about 6400 pre-1700 British items of which an estimated 2,500 items have already been catalogued on the web. The whole collection covers a wide range of subjects, including, Cordiale printed by Caxton, 1479, and Ranulph Higden's Policronicon, printed by Wynkyn De Worde, 1495.
Collection 5: Two parish libraries were deposited in the old Reference Library in the 19th and mid- 20th centuries. These are the Kings Norton Parish Library and the Sheldon Parish Library. A magnificent collection of early books and atlases was presented to the Reference Library, by W.A. Cadbury, and of particular interest are 11 atlases and books with maps printed in Britain before 1700.