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Physical & Digital Collections

Rare Books at Cambridge University Library: Services

Ordering rare books

The majority of rare books (about 85%) can be ordered online through iDiscover. When you have logged in to iDiscover, you should find a 'request' button within individual catalogue records. Once the item is available in the room, you will be sent an automated email confirming this. Paper request slips can still be found on the staff desk and are required for the approximately 15% of our material not currently available to order online. Items will be fetched as quickly as possible, though there may be delays at certain times of day. Please ask at the desk after this time to consult your books. Fetching stops at 18:20 on weekdays and 16:00 on Saturdays, and requests submitted after these times will be fetched on the next working day. Please note that some books, especially those in the Keynes collection, may be inaccessible at certain times. If you are travelling some distance to consult rare books material it is suggested that you contact us by email ( to check that material is available (especially in the case of material held off-site in our Ely store); in most cases, it can be ordered in advance of a visit.

Books fetched are kept for five days before being sent back to the shelf. When collecting your order, you must sign a receipt for each item; you are held responsible for these items until they have been returned to Reading Room staff. When you leave the Room please return your books to staff at the desk; they will check the items against the signed receipts, which will then be returned to you. If you wish to see your books again, please complete a reservation slip. Rare Book material may not be removed from the room, except in the case of reference works shelved in the Rare Books Reading Room itself, which can be signed out for photocopying by asking a member of staff at the desk.

Handling of rare books

Readers are reminded that rare book material should be handled with the greatest care, including recent publications. Book rests are available on all desks and should be used in most cases, particularly with large volumes. Open volumes should not be placed on top of one another and should not be leant upon. Book weights ('snakes') are available from the reading room staff to hold books open. Pencil only must be used in the Room. Pencils can be bought at the Staff Desk. Marking of books is forbidden.

Reference books

An extensive collection of bibliographical reference works stands on the open shelves in the Munby Rare Books Room. All these books are catalogued online. The books are arranged in a classified sequence with the classmarks B10-B990; a subject index to the reference works is also available. Please note that these books may not be reserved or removed from the Reading Room (except for photocopying; please ask a member of staff).

Reservations and transfers

Readers who wish to reserve rare book items for further use should hand them to the staff, together with a completed reservation slip with the current date. You should keep the receipts for these books and give them to the staff when you next wish to consult the reserved material. Reserved books are normally held for five days. Reference works from the open shelves in the Room may not be reserved. Books in use from the Library's open access classes may be reserved by the entrance to the Room on completion of a reservation slip, although space here is limited.

If you are working on materials fetched to another reading room, it is usually possible to arrange for these items to be transferred to Rare Books to consult alongside rare books items. Items fetched to the Rare Books Reading Room may not be taken away, with the exception of transfers to the Manuscripts Room for consultation alongside their material. Reference works can be transferred to other specialist reading rooms if required; please ask at the staff desk in any of these cases.

Borrowing Items from rare book classes and special collections are generally not borrowable, though exceptions may be made for a small proportion of post-1899 publications. Some reference books from B10-B990 may also be borrowed. All enquiries concerning borrowing should be made to the Superintendents. Please note, it may not be possible to prepare material for loan immediately and readers may be asked to return later the same day, or on a Monday if a loan is requested on a Saturday.


Enquiries concerning rare book material should be made at the Staff Desk and will then, if necessary, be referred to appropriate specialist staff. During the lunch-hour (12:45–14:00), the evening (after 17:20) and on Saturdays, fewer members of staff are on duty, and we may need to ask you to wait for your enquiry to be dealt with later on the same day or the next working day. Enquiries are also welcome by email (, post (Rare Books Department, Cambridge University Library, West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DR) or telephone (Specialists 01223 333122; Rare Books Reading Room 01223 33117).

Laptops & wireless networking

Readers may use laptop computers in the Room at any desk. Plug sockets are provided in all the desks, and readers may plug their computers in directly. Adaptors are available at the Staff Desk if needed by users of computers with two-pin plugs. Access to the UniOfCam wireless network is available in the Room for current staff and students of the University of Cambridge with a Raven password. Other readers can apply for access via a time-limited ticket.


Readers may use their own cameras to take still photographs of material fetched to the Rare Books Reading Room. If you wish to take your own photographs you must first speak to staff on the desk, who will assess the suitability of the material; they may refuse a request if there is the potential for damage to the item. You will be asked to read the information sheet on self-service photography and sign a registration form. Photographs may be taken for non-commercial research or private study only. Cameras and camera phones must be hand-held, and must be capable of being set to silent mode. SLRs, tripods, 'mini-pods', hand-held scanners and flash photography are not permitted. Please note also that some collections are subject to restrictions and may not be photographed; staff will provide guidance on this. Please see our full guidelines for further information. Photocopying can also be done by the staff of the Department on some material; small orders will usually be ready for collection on the following day, but large orders can take several days. Completed orders for photocopies should be collected and paid for in the Rare Books Room. Other imaging work can be carried out by staff of the Digital Content Unit. Details of services and prices are available on their webpages.

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