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Physical & Digital Collections

Archives and Modern Manuscripts Collections at Cambridge University Library: Reader Guidelines

Using the Manuscripts Reading Room

The items in the Manuscripts Reading Room collections are often unique and fragile, and need extra care when being used. In other parts of the Library you may use any type of stationery, however only pencils or laptops may be used in this room. Readers are permitted to take photographs of manuscript and archive material.  All readers wishing to use a camera must first ask at the desk.  You will be asked to sign in on entering the room and should bring a valid Library card or University card with you.

What can’t be taken into the Manuscripts Room?

  • Bags of any kind including transparent bags, laptop cases, pencil cases, handbags and large wallets.
  • Stationery such as pens, document wallets, folders, envelopes, ring-binders and bound notebooks.
  • Outdoor clothing including coats, hats, scarves and gloves.
  • Blades of any kind including pencil sharpeners.
  • Food or drink including water.
  • Scanners.

There are lockers off the Entrance Hall and additional lockers outside the Manuscripts Room provided for you to leave these items in.

Handling guidelines

These guidelines have been drawn up to help you use our collections for research whilst ensuring that they are preserved for future generations of readers. If you are unsure of the safest way to handle archives, manuscripts or rare books, please just ask for assistance from the reading room staff. Always handle Special Collections material with clean dry hands. Please be aware that there is a risk of damage to material from nail polish as it can mark the surface of paper or parchment.

  • Look out for vulnerable areas in bound items, such as loose endbands and cracked hinges, and take extra care where these are observed.
  • Do not, at any time, open bound items flat on the table; use book supports and cushions to create an angled support.  Adjust the book supports to suit different book openings when examining different parts of the book.
  • Take care when turning leaves and use a page turner where necessary.
  • Use extra support for fold-outs and/or fore-edge flaps.
  • Use snake weights to hold open leaves and restrain unbound material such as unrolled charts and plans. Avoid placing the weight on text areas and where necessary use silicone release paper to protect vulnerable areas.  
  • Use nitrile gloves when handling photographs and hold them at the edges.
  • Do not mark or annotate the leaves of archives, manuscripts or rare books.
  • Only use acid-free paper to flag leaves when needed.
  • Do not drag items across the surface of the table.  Close bound items carefully when you have finished your assessment.
  • Always carry bound items closed and use two two hands to carry all items.

If you are unsure of the safest way to handle manuscripts or rare books, ask for assistance from the reading room staff.

Book supports, snake weights, page turners, acid free slips, silicone release papers and nitrile gloves are available in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

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