Cambridge University Library

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Cambridge University Library
Main UL building.jpg
Cambridge University Library
Country England
Type Academic library
Established 15th century (before 1416)
Location West Road, Cambridge
Coordinates 52°12′18.6″N 0°6′29″E / 52.205167°N 0.10806°E / 52.205167; 0.10806Coordinates: 52°12′18.6″N 0°6′29″E / 52.205167°N 0.10806°E / 52.205167; 0.10806
Items collected
Size eight million items (approx.)
Legal deposit Yes
Access and use
Population served University of Cambridge, and others
Members University of Cambridge (and some other groups on application)
Other information
Director Anne Jarvis

Cambridge University Library is the main research library of the University of Cambridge in England. It is also biggest of 114 libraries[1] within the University. Since 2011 it has also been the main component of an affiliation programme with other libraries within the University, for the purpose of central governance and administration. As of 3 August 2015, there are currently twenty-one Affiliated libraries associated with the Library.

Cambridge University Library is often referred to within the University as "the University Library" or just "the UL." It holds approximately 8 million items (including maps and sheet music) and, in contrast to the Bodleian or the British Library, many of its books are available on open shelves. It is one of the six legal deposit libraries in the United Kingdom, and is therefore entitled to request a free copy of every book published in the UK and Ireland. Through legal deposit, purchase and donation it receives around 100,000 books every year.

The Library was housed in the University's "Old Schools" near Senate House until it outgrew the space there and a new library was built. The large site on the western edge of Cambridge city centre is now between Robinson College and Memorial Court, Clare College. The current librarian is Anne Jarvis — the first woman to hold the post[2] — who succeeded Peter Fox on 1 April 2009.


 The Cambridge University Library
Construction of the current main UL building in the 1930s.

As early as the fourteenth century, Cambridge University owned a collection of manuscripts and some printed books. These would have been kept in chests along with other valuables, rather than in a library building as would be recognised today.[3]

A common library can be traced to the beginning of the 15th century, with the first direct reference to a ‘library’. In March 1416 the will of William Loring was proved, which bequeathed three volumes to the library thus: "Item volo quod omnes libri mei juris civilis remaneant in communi libraria scolarium universitatis Cantebrigg' in perpetuum."

The earliest catalogue is dated ca. 1424, at which time there were 122 volumes in the library.[4] The second earliest surviving catalogue was drawn up in 1473, and denotes 330 volumes. From the 16th century onwards it received generous donations or bequests of books and growth was considerably increased once the privilege of legal deposit had been granted.


The University Library (background) and Trinity College Wren Library (foreground), as viewed from St John's College chapel tower

The current UL building was constructed between 1931 and 1934 under architect Giles Gilbert Scott, who also designed the neighbouring Clare Memorial Court (part of Clare College). It bears a marked resemblance to Scott's industrial architecture, a famous example of which is Bankside Power Station (the home of the Tate Modern). The library tower stands 157 feet (48 metres) tall, six feet shorter than the top of St John's College Chapel and ten feet taller than the peak of King's College Chapel. Contemporary reports stated that in opening the building, Chamberlain referred to it as "this magnificent erection",[citation needed] although this phrase is also attributed by tradition to George V. The fictional "Dark Tower" in the novel of that name (attributed to C. S. Lewis) was a replica of this building. Contrary to popular belief, pornographic material is not stored in the tower.[5]

The library has been extended several times. The main building houses the Japanese and Chinese collections in the Aoi Pavilion, an extension donated by Tadao Aoi and opened in 1998.

Legal deposit library[edit]

As a legal deposit library, it is entitled to claim without charge a copy of all books, journals, printed maps and music published in Britain and Ireland. This has contributed to the library's large holdings of over seven million books and 1.5 million periodicals. The annual intake of the library is around 100.000 books. The library is open to all members of the University of Cambridge. As is traditional amongst British university libraries, research postgraduates and academics from other UK universities are allowed reference-only access to the library's collection, and members of the public [1] may apply for access to use the Library for reference if their research requires access to materials held there.

The library is unique amongst the UK's legal deposit libraries in keeping a large proportion of its books on open access and in allowing some categories of reader (for example Cambridge academics, postgraduates and undergraduates) to borrow from its collection. It has a well-used "Tea Room" in which full meals, snacks and beverages are available. The library regularly puts on exhibitions, usually free to the public, and featuring items from its collections.

University Library
The Squire Law Library.


In 2002 the library began a project called "Janus" (after the Roman god) to provide a single point of networked access to catalogues of archives and manuscript collections held throughout Cambridge. A widening number of participating repositories - both University and non-University - promises in due course the near comprehensive coverage of archives in the city and surrounding area.[6]

Digitisation project[edit]

In June 2010, Cambridge University announced that a £1.5 million donation would allow them to start digitising some of the collections in the University Library and eventually provide access to them free of charge over the Internet via the Cambridge Digital Library website. Initially the project will focus on two collections called "The Foundations of Faith" and "The Foundations of Science", which includes writings by Isaac Newton and his contemporaries, as well as documents from the Library's archives of Christian, Islamic and Jewish texts.

Bronze book bollard, by Harry Gray


The official office of Librarian of the University was not established until 1577, when William James was appointed Librarian. The first set of regulations “for the Office of keeping the Library” were then formed in 1582.[7] Little is known of the administration before the late sixteenth century. Before 1577 the University Chaplain had overall responsibility of the Library amongst other duties. 16 potential Chaplain-Librarians have been identified.[7]

In 1721 the post of Principal Librarian (Protobibliothecarius) was created for Conyers Middleton "as a mark of sympathy with him in his opposition to Richard Bentley".[8] In 1828 this post was merged with that of Librarian (Bibliothecarius).

Anne Jarvis is the current University Librarian of the University of Cambridge. She is the 35th Librarian of the University Library. Various scholars have held the position. Abraham Wheelocke was librarian of the "Public Library" at Cambridge University, and was also Reader in Anglo-Saxon in the 17th century. Augustus Theodore Bartholomew was a librarian at Cambridge University for over twenty-five years. The classicist A. F. Scholfield was Librarian from 1923 to 1949. More recent University Librarians have included E. B. Ceadel, F. W. Ratcliffe (1980–1994), and Peter Fox (1994–2009). Other notable members of staff include the bibliographer Henry Bradshaw and the Uranian poet Charles Edward Sayle, author of a history of the library.


The main University Library hosts exhibitions in its Milstein Exhibition Centre. These change approximately every six to eight months and are open to all, free of charge. The current exhibition commemorates the gift of a large collection of books and manuscripts from George I, and is entitled: "His Royal Favour: The books that built the library".[9] It will run until 23 December 2015.

Special collections[edit]

Interior of the main reading room
Interior of the main reading room

As part of its collection[10] of more than 8,000,000 volumes, the library contains a wealth of printed and manuscript material from earlier times. This includes:

  • A copy of the Gutenberg Bible from 1455, the earliest European example of a book produced using movable type.
  • Library of Lord Acton, Catholic historian and Regius Professor of Modern History in 1885–1902. The extensive library (around 60 000 volumes) collected by Lord Acton for research was bequeathed to the University Library on his death. The collection contains books from the 15th to 19th centuries, with emphasis on European history and church history. Many of the books contain annotations in Lord Acton's own hand.
  • An archive of Charles Darwin's correspondence and books from his working library (including copies of his own works).
  • The Hanson collection, containing important books on navigation and shipbuilding, as well as maritime atlases, some dating from the 16th century.
  • The Bradshaw collection, containing more than 14 000 books relating to Ireland, printed in Ireland, or written by Irish authors. This is one of the most important collections of its kind in the world. The collection was formed by Henry Bradshaw, d. 1886. At present, the emphasis is on books printed in Ireland before 1850.[11]
  • The library of the typographer Stanley Morison, who had close links with Cambridge University Press.
  • "The Royal Library", an important collection of more than 30 000 books assembled by John Moore (1646–1714), Bishop of Ely. The collection was bequeathed to the University Library by George I in 1715, hence the name.
  • The library of the Royal Commonwealth Society, containing books, periodicals, pamphlets, photographs and manuscripts relating to the British Empire and the Commonwealth.
  • The Bible Society library and the library of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK).
  • The Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection, a store of 140 000 manuscripts and manuscript fragments, mainly in Hebrew and Arabic, from the Ben Ezra synagogue in Cairo.
  • Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis, an important codex of the New Testament dating from the fifth century, written both in Greek and Latin. The Greek text is unique, with many interpolations found nowhere else. It was given to the University of Cambridge by the Protestant scholar Theodore Beza, friend and successor of Calvin; hence the name.
  • The Cambridge Songs (Carmina Cantabrigiensia), a collection of Goliardic medieval Latin poems, preserved on ten leaves of the "Codex Cantabrigiensis".
  • E.G. Browne's collection of around 480 codices in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish.
  • Several composer archives: William Alwyn, Arthur Bliss, Roberto Gerhard, Peter Tranchell.
  • Papers of Isaac Newton, Lord Kelvin, Ernest Rutherford, George Gabriel Stokes, Joseph Needham, G. E. Moore and Siegfried Sassoon, among others.
  • Archives of the Royal Greenwich Observatory.
  • Material and archives of the University of Cambridge, from probates and graces to records of various student societies.
  • Around 1.5 million maps.

See also[edit]

Libraries within the University of Cambridge
Some manuscripts


  1. ^ "Facilities and resources | Undergraduate Study". Retrieved 2015-07-09. 
  2. ^ University of Cambridge. Cambridge appoints first female University Librarian 26 January 2009.
  3. ^ "History of Cambridge University Library | Cambridge University Library". Retrieved 2015-09-10. 
  4. ^ Higgins, Hannah. The Grid Book. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2009. p.180. ISBN 978-0-262-51240-4
  5. ^ VarsityNothing racy in 'tower of porn'
  6. ^ About Janus, Cambridge University Library
  7. ^ a b Oates, J.C.T. (1986). Cambridge University Library: a history. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 491. ISBN 0521306566. 
  8. ^ "Protobibliothecarius". Janus. Retrieved 2015-09-09. 
  9. ^ "His royal favour | His royal favour: The books that built the Library". Retrieved 2015-10-01. 
  10. ^ Library Collections
  11. ^ Sayle, Charles (1916) A Catalogue of the Bradshaw Collection of Irish Books in the University Library, Cambridge. 3 vols. Cambridge: Printed for the University Library


  • Bradshaw, Henry (1889) Collected Papers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Textus
  • Fox, Peter (ed.) (1998) Cambridge University Library: the Great Collections. Cambridge University Press ISBN 0-521-62636-6 (Paperback ISBN 0-521-62647-1).
  • Oates, J. C. T., & McKitterick, D. (1986) Cambridge University Library: a History 2 vols.
    • Oates, J. C. T. Cambridge University Library: a History; [Vol. 1]: From the beginnings to the Copyright Act of Queen Anne. Cambridge: University Press ISBN 0-521-30656-6
    • McKitterick, David Cambridge University Library: a History; [Vol. 2]: the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Cambridge: University Press ISBN 0-521-30655-8
  • Ratcliffe, F. W. (2007) Books, Books, Just Miles and Miles of Books: across the library counter, 1950-2000. Cambridge: F. W. Ratcliffe (autobiography)
  • Sayle, Charles (1916) Annals of Cambridge University Library 1278-1900. Cambridge: University Library

Descriptions of collections[edit]

External links[edit]