Royal College of Nursing

The Royal College of Nursing is a professional UK membership body and union of over 435,000 registered nurses, midwives, health care practitioners and nursing students. The RCN Library and Archive Service (LAS) holds Europe’s largest nursing collection, with the historical collections being held in London and Edinburgh. The collection is primarily in the English language and dates mainly from the 1850s. The RCN was founded in 1916 to lobby parliament for the state registration of nurse and continues to actively campaign for nursing. Its library service established in 1922 and the archive in the 1980s.

RCN LAS actively collects material on nursing in the UK, focusing on RCN union activities including its annual Congress, industrial relations issues, campaigns and activism. Recurring themes include pay and conditions, gender, status of women, diversity, immigration, public health, mental health.

Catalogues are available online, together with an increasing number of free online resources such as digitised content and exhibitions. RCN LAS also delivers an annual programme of events aimed at the public.

Brief History

There are significant collections of books, journals, nursing PhD theses, pamphlets, rare grey literature, archives (organisational and personal), audio-visual, digital objects, oral histories and small objects.

  • RCN Publications: a comprehensive collection of RCN authored items, which reflect its union and professional activities;
  • Pamphlet collection Large collection which includes material on health, gender, diversity pay, and industrial relations;
  • Royal College of Nursing archives: This collection dates from c.1916 to date and contains minutes, correspondence, publications, photographs of the activities of the RCN. Includes material related to both the union and professional activities of the RCN. It also includes organisations which merged with the RCN, such as the Student Nurses Association and the Society of Registered Male Nurses;
  • Oral History Collection: over 700 interviews with nurses including a number of nurses, activists, union representatives, general secretaries and campaigners. Themes include education, pay and conditions, industrial action (and attitudes towards), gender and racial discrimination. Interviews date from the 1980s, referencing events from c.1930s onwards.
  • Personal Papers collection: The personal papers of over 900 individuals, many of whom were activists;
  • Small Object Collections include: badges, posters, photographs relating to campaigns, such as ‘Pay not Peanuts’ and ‘Scrap the Cap’; and
  • Digital Collections: an increasing number of digital and digitised collections are being made available online, many of which support social and labour history. For example our nursing registers collection provides over 1.6 million entries of named individuals c.1880-1968.

Contact Details
Library and Heritage Centre
20 Cavendish Square

Tel : 0345 337 3368
Web :
Email :

Opening Times
Monday to Friday 9am – 7pm
Saturday (not during August) 9am – 5pm

Free admission. Please note RCN Archives are based in Edinburgh. Users are asked to contact the library in the first instance. Access to the Oral Histories can be arranged in London or Edinburgh by appointment.

Located in central London. Close to Oxford Circus and Bond Street stations.

Access Details