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Physical & Digital Collections

Official Publications: Searching

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

Cambridge Libraries

The University of Cambridge has a variety of different libraries which can be divided into three categories: the main University Library, the Faculty/Departmental/Centre Libraries, and the College Libraries. The Faculty and Departmental Libraries are built around subject areas and therefore sometimes include official publications. This section will show you how to find the OP material spread throughout these libraries using iDiscover, our library catalogue.

Using iDiscover

There are three main methods for searching and browsing official publications in iDiscover. To achieve the best results, select the 'Advanced Search' option and try searching the following fields:

Author: Official bodies will distribute single publications, series, journals, pamphlets and digital content (such as CDs and DVDs). They will be recorded in iDiscover as the author of the work, so search this field for organisations relevant to your studies.

Publisher: Many official bodies will have their own publisher to support them (although some will use mainstream publishers too). If you know of a publisher related to your area of study, try searching this alongside keywords.

Subject: Search official bodies as subjects in order to see relevant material about them and authored by them.

When you find a useful record, use the highlighted tabs to find other relevant records (such as those outlined above)

Identifying an OP record in iDiscover

"Online Access Restricted"

Occasionally items in iDiscover may have a record that includes a red notice, stating "Online access restricted". These are items provided electronically to the University under the Legal Deposit Act but can only be viewed on designated terminals. For more information about these resources, look at the Electronic Legal Deposit guide.

UK National Archives

For material not held within the university it may be necessary to consult the National Archives, based in Kew. Their online catalogue (found here) provides information about printed and digitised content held by the archives and gives information about when documents will be made available.

The National Archives have produced dedicated research guides regarding various government departments, such as:

Cabinet and its Committees

Foreign Office and FCO records from 1782

Home Office Correspondence from 1782

Parliamentary Archives

Some official publications of the UK Parliament are retained in their parliamentary archive at the Palace of Westminster. 

Their website includes a catalogue which outlines all their material. They also provide guides to resources that are available online along with links to databases and catalogues.

Digital archives

Digital Archives crawl webpages and store snapshots of the content on particular dates.

It can be helpful to have a date and/or an old weblink, but it is also possible to search or browse.

Examples of digital archives that are useful for searching for official publications are:

The UK Web Archive

Parliamentary Archive

The Wayback machine.

Policy documents

Official Publications Session

Seek specialist advice

Most faculties and departments will be connected to a subject specific library which will hold relevant material. A subject specific librarian will be able to advise you about the OP material in their collections and how to search further afield. 

Some libraries have collections of official publications, such as the Squire Law Library. 

Browsing OP Records

If you know the first part of an official publications classmark (starting with the letters 'OP') you can browse the collection in iDiscover. Simply put in the first part of the classmark in order to find other material from the same country or government. This example shows how you can browse the Board of Trade records.

Other library catalogues

Other catalogues are available that show where print copies of official publications are available further afield, such as:

Library Hub Discover - a catalogue showing the collections of major academic libraries in the UK

WorldCat - a catalogue that searches the collections of  major international libraries.

National libraries will also hold large sets of official publications in print.

Private Papers

Some catalogues will search the private papers of notable politicians.

We are very fortunate in Cambridge to have the Churchill Archives Centre which holds the private papers of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher in addition to many other notable people.

The Archives Centre is part of Churchill College and therefore researchers wishing to use the collections must consult the Visit Us page first.


Archives Hub

Archives hub is a useful resource to search across U.K. archive collections.

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