Cambridge University Library


A SahoucarWelcome to the Royal Commonwealth Society Library collections. From its foundation in 1868, the organisation known successively as the Colonial Society, Royal Colonial Institute, Royal Empire Society and finally the Royal Commonwealth Society, amassed a library on the British Empire, the Commonwealth and member countries (together with smaller collections on the empires of rival nations) - an astonishing range of books, pamphlets, periodicals, official publications, manuscripts and photographs. The collection now consists of over 300,000 printed items, circa 700 archival collections (including manuscript diaries, correspondence, pictures, cine films, scrapbooks and newspaper cuttings) and over 100,000 photographs.

At the beginning of the 1990s, it appeared that the Society would be forced to break up and sell the collection. A £3 million appeal launched in 1992, with the Prince of Wales as Patron, saved the Library for the nation and enabled it to be moved to Cambridge University Library, where it is available to all bone fide researchers.

Projects are currently underway to increase access to this collection, in particular to catalogue manuscripts, photographs, cinefilms and official publications. For more information on these projects please see our Projects webpage and the Library's Special Collections blog (category: Royal Commonwealth Society).

For more information on the history of the RCS Library, please see:

First-time users of the collection are recommended to refer to the Induction Notes linked from the left-hand column of this page.

Subject guides are available for some archives and special collections. These include military archives, mission archives, nursing archives, Polar archives and West Indian collections. Please follow the Collections link from the left-hand column of this page.