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Physical & Digital Collections

Official Publications: University Library

A guide to the official publications collections held within the Cambridge University Libraries.

University Library

The University Library's Official Publications material can be requested and fetched from the Rare Books Room, regardless of publication date. There is a small reference collection in the Rare Books Room which can be browsed. Volumes can also be transferred to the Rare Books Room if required for consultation with fetched items. Most Official Publications material can be fetched within 20 minutes, but more complex enquiries may take longer, particularly on Saturdays.

The Official Publications collection includes publications of: 

  • the governments of the United Kingdom, the Irish Republic, members of the Commonwealth, and some foreign countries

  • more than fifty intergovernmental organisations including the United Nations and its specialist agencies, and the European Union.

Finding print copies

The Official Publications collection is accessed in a number of ways. Since 1999 the more important works have been catalogued on the online catalogue.

Pre-1999 material is accessible through a subject catalogue on cards in the Rare Books Reading Room annexe. It is in three sections: the United Kingdom; foreign and Commonwealth countries (except India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) and intergovernmental organisations; India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Blue Books (British Parliamentary Papers) have their own set of bound indexes standing next to the card catalogue. Indexes to House of Lords papers are available on request.

There is also a separate card catalogue for the Royal Commonwealth Society Library kept in the area behind the glass screen of the Rare Books room. Although over 30,500 official publications from the RCS collections have been catalogued on iDiscover it is still necessary to check the card catalogue for official publications from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, and South African constituent states such as Orange River State and Cape Province; also for all official publications from South Asia, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada.

PDFs v originals

A large number of official publications are now available electronically, either on government websites or within subscription databases. The information under the separate tabs in this LibGuide will give you more guidance.

When dealing with older archive material please consider that using a PDF is better than using an original as this helps preserve the original. It is quite common for researchers to use both a print-out and digitised copies at the same time - the print-out for reading and annotating, and the database for searching.

Ordering material

Most of the official publications material held at the University Library needs to be ordered to a reading room. The catalogue record for each item will say where items can be read and how to order them.

Some material can be quickly fetched to the Rare Books room because they are stored on site. A selection of official publication material is stored externally and may take longer to arrive in a reading room. To learn more about how to identify and order this material, look at the dedicated LibGuide.


The University Library has its own system of classmarks. This is a (very) basic summary to aid understanding with an image above.

Official Publications classmarks start with OP.

The next digit denotes height of the publication (e.g. 1 = 30" to 36", 3 = 20.5" to 24.5").

The next digits (straight after the size digit) represents the country/jurisdiction (e.g. 100 = England, 4850 = New Zealand, 09 = United Nations).

The next part denotes the Government Department for the UK publications, or a subject classification for UN or foreign material.

The final number represents the series or title.

So for example:

OP.1100.3.020 is for Annual Statement of the Trade of the UK


Classmarks for foreign and commonwealth material include a subject code instead of a number for the issuing government department. These are three digits and are taken from the Dewey classification system e.g. 310 for statistics.

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