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Unlocking Libraries

Access & Participation with Cambridge University Libraries

About Cambridge Libraries: Using Libraries at Cambridge

Different Types of Library

Cambridge libraries generally (but not always) fall into three main categories:

  • College Libraries - attached to a particular College, covering all subjects taught at that College.
  • Faculty and Department Libraries - embedded within a Faculty or Department, covering a single subject or set of related subjects.
  • The University Library - one of the UK's leading research libraries, and a legal deposit library, with millions of resources.

How these libraries are used by students depends a lot on the subject being studied, and on the individual student's preferences. Some prefer the familiarity of their College library, while for others the subject-specific focus of a Department library or the large Reading Rooms at the University Library help them get in the zone to study. 

Libraries are all different, and together create a landscape of diverse learning environments, with different types of desks, chairs, sofas, collaborative spaces, quiet spaces, and facilities. Libraries often play a social role too - as a place to gather with friends in between lectures, relax for some downtime, or find non-academic reading to enjoy.

Varsity, a Cambridge student newspaper, ran an article in 2018 called Leafing Through Our Libraries that explored the variety of Cambridge libraries from a student's perspective, which provides a helpful introduction to our libraries and library resources.

A student browses the shelves of Sidney Sussex LibraryCollege Libraries

College libraries cover all the subjects studied at that college, and have core textbooks and reading for undergraduate students.

In later years, or for more focused study, students often also make use of their subject-specific Department or Faculty library too.

College libraries can be seen as a student's "home" library, and often have long opening hours, lots of study space, and a welcoming atmosphere. 

Find out more about College Libraries via the College Libraries LibGuide.


Two students chatting in the Divinity Faculty LibraryDepartment and Faculty Libraries

Departmental and Faculty libraries tend to focus on a specific subject or set of related subjects, and provide discipline-specific resources, support, and skills.

They are used by students from different Colleges who all study the same or similar subjects, so they can be a great place to meet people from outside of your College, and study together for coursework and assignments.

Find out more about Department and Faculty Libraries at the Libraries Directory.



Students in Cambridge University Library reading room. Credit: AliceTheCamera/Cambridge University LibraryThe University Library (also known as the UL)

The UL is a truly enormous resource for students and researchers from around Cambridge, and around the world. With literally millions of books, manuscripts, maps, journals, artefacts and more, it covers every subject taught at Cambridge and more. The UL has large reading rooms, extensive study space, access to internationally-significant special collections, and of course, a very popular tearoom!

Find out more about the UL at the University Library website.



For SLOs:

To find out more about arranging school visits to various Cambridge libraries, our Contact a Library page gives you details of libraries who may be able to offer support for outreach activities, or you can contact us with your requirements and we can put you in touch with the right library for your needs.

For Teachers:

If you are interested in school visits or online sessions with specific Cambridge libraries, please contact your Schools Liaison Officer in the first instance. All SLOs cover a targeted Link Area in the UK, so each area has a particular SLO to contact. 

Look up your Link Area and SLO on the College Area Links website

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