Cambridge University Library

How to find a book or periodical

Consulting the catalogues

The first step is to consult the catalogues in order to find out whether the Library has the book or periodical you require and, if so, where it is kept.


(i) You should start by consulting the online catalogue (Newton) on the computer terminals in the Catalogue Hall and elsewhere in the Library. This covers holdings of all books printed after 1977 and all earlier books considered to be of academic importance at the time of acquisition. Several search methods are offered.

(ii) Books of secondary academic importance published before 1978: The Supplementary Catalogues in the Reading Room Corridor South - a card catalogue for publications between 1906 and 1977 and a sheaf catalogue for earlier material - need to be consulted for most books considered of secondary academic importance to scholarship when received. Some examples are children's books, school textbooks, recreational material and much English fiction. These are name catalogues, with entries for authors, editors and people as subjects.


To locate a periodical, journal, or newspaper, consult the online catalogue. There is an alphabetical index of journal titles, and other types of search can be limited to journals only.

Individual articles in periodicals are not catalogued separately. To identify individual articles you might start by consulting printed subject bibliographies, or electronic bibliographical databases. See Electronic resources.

REMOTE ACCESS. The online catalogue can be used at any computer connected to the internet, so you can find out if the Library has an item before coming. Whether inside or outside the Library, you may choose to use the Universal Catalogue option, which gives information about library holdings throughout the University of Cambridge.

If you cannot find the book you want or need help in using any of the catalogues, you should ask for help at the Enquiry Desk in the main READING ROOM, which is straight through the Catalogue Room.

Finding the volumes

(i) Classmarks. When you identify the book or periodical you require in the catalogues, note down the classmark accurately and in full. The classmark is normally a combination of letters and numbers comprising:

a class number     e.g.   542:3
size-letter                e.g.   c
date number        &nbsp e.g.   95
running number    e.g.   1

The class number, of up to 3 digits, with up to 3 decimal points, indicates the subject of the book. N.B. For technical reasons, the decimal point is often represented (on the online catalogue display, for example) as a colon. This must be interpreted as a decimal point to understand the arrangement of the classification scheme and the order of the books on the shelves: e.g. 384:13 precedes 384:2.

(ii) Entries in the online catalogue for items in the University Library main building include information about their location. If an item is on open shelves you will be told where to go to find it; if it is on closed access you will be told which reading room it is fetched to and, in some cases, given the opportunity to request the item from your computer terminal. Items in the Supplementary Catalogues need to be requested in the West Room, or the Rare Books Room for pre-1900 publications.

(iii) Open shelves. If you are fetching a book from the open shelves you will find that the bookcases on each floor are labelled to indicate the range of classmarks they hold.

On the floors of open shelves, books and periodicals are arranged in separate sequences. Cases containing periodicals are marked with large red labels.

Within each sequence, volumes are divided into four sizes (a, b, c and d) for economy of storage. Case labels are colour-coded to indicate the size of volumes they hold. In searching for a book or periodical on a particular floor:
first make sure you are looking in the correct area (that for books; or that for periodicals),
next, find the case or cases appropriate to the size-letter in the classmark,
then find the right case for the class number (the numbers, or letters and numbers, before the first stop or decimal point),
finally, for books within a class, look for the right date number, and then the individual running number.
Once you have found the item you require, you may read it there, take it to the Reading Room or (if you have borrowing rights) borrow it upon completion of procedures at the Reader Services Desk in the Entrance Hall.

You are asked NOT to replace books on the shelves, but to leave them on the tables; in the reading rooms ALL books should be taken to the staff desk when they have been finished with.

The loan status is in the online catalogue. This tells you if a book is borrowable, and, if so, whether it is currently on loan or not. The online catalogue also allows you to recall books that are out on loan.

Many books which are not on the shelf, however, will be in use in the Library; look on the tables on the floor where the book should be shelved and if it is not there try again two or three days later.

If you need help, please ask a member of the Library staff.

Uncatalogued Books

Newly received items take varying lengths of time to appear in the catalogue. Forms are available in the Reading Room to enquire about uncatalogued books, which can be made available for consultation in the Library. British publications not yet received by legal deposit can be claimed from the publisher and made similarly available on receipt.