Spend some quiet time in our stunning, light-filled Library with its magnificent Victorian oriel window, coats of arms, carved arches and fireplace.

Over 30,000 books on Dorset’s geology, history, people, art and culture are here for you to browse or use for study. By appointment, you can also see items from the Library’s reserve and Special Collections – our archive of maps and plans, printed ephemera, biological and geological field notebooks, archaeological excavation reports and academic research papers. The Library is managed and cared for by the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society.

A Historic Space.

The Library was designed by G. R. Crickmay and Sons from Weymouth, the architects Thomas Hardy had worked for before he became a writer. Built from Portland stone, it is noted for its oriel window in the turret, coats of arms and carved arches. The fireplace was rediscovered during the Museum’s recent redevelopment.

When Dorset Museum first opened in 1884, this room was called a ‘library for working men’. In 1904 it became the ‘ladies reading room’ and the main library moved downstairs, to what is now the Café. At the time this part of the Museum had no gas or electricity. Readers relied on the natural light that floods through the oriel window.

Some of the Library’s first books were donated by the Dorset Natural History and Antiquarian Field Club. This club later became the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society, which continues to manage and care for the Library today.

Opening Times

Open to members and annual ticket holders:

  • Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday – 10.30am – 3.30pm
  • Tuesdays – open only by appointment. For researchers and members consulting Special Collections.

Become A Member

Join the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society to access our lending library of reference books.

Find out more

What's Inside

Late 19th-early 20th century

Edward Cunnington’s Notebook

Edward Cunnington (1825-1916) excavated around 46 Dorset barrows, including Clandon Barrow near Maiden Castle, in the late 19th century. Cunnington wrote up reports of his finds in this notebook. The 1882 Clandon Barrow excavation is illustrated by pencil drawings and watercolours of his discoveries.

Collections Discovery Centre


On the Origin of Species

On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection by Charles Darwin

This rare first edition of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species belonged to James Buckman, a geologist and natural historian who settled in Dorset to farm in 1863. Darwin wrote to Buckman, asking about his latest research. The letter was later bound into the book’s spine.

Collections Discovery Centre


Mary Anning’s Commonplace Book

Fossil collector and scientist Mary Anning (1799-1847) handwrote prayers, poems and texts she valued into this unique document, her final notebook. Simple books like this were a way for people to keep copies of their favourite writings.

Collections Discovery Centre