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Throughout 2016, Cambridge University Library will celebrate 600 years as one of the world's greatest libraries with a spectacular exhibition of priceless treasures – and a second show throwing light on our more weird and wonderful collections.

Older than the British Library and the Vatican Library, Cambridge University Library was first mentioned by name in two wills dated March 1416 and its most valuable contents stored in a wooden chest. The University Library now holds eight million books, journals, maps and magazines – as well as some of the world's most iconic scientific, literary and cultural treasures, including Newton’s own annotated copy of Principia Mathematica, Darwin’s papers on evolution, 3000-year-old Chinese oracle bones, and the earliest reliable text for 20 of Shakespeare’s plays.

The University Library is also home to a bizarre assembly of non-book curiosities, collected over centuries, including an envelope of ectoplasm, a trumpet for hearing spirits and a statue of the Virgin Mary, miraculously saved from an earthquake on Martinique.

Since 1710, Cambridge University Library has also been entitled to one copy of each and every publication in the UK and Ireland under Legal Deposit – meaning the greatest works of more than four millennia of recorded thought sit alongside copies of the Beano and hundreds of books written about and by Charles Dickens, on more than 100 miles of shelves. With two million items on open display, our readers have the largest open-access collection in Europe immediately available to them.

To celebrate the University Library’s 600th birthday, a spectacular free exhibition, Lines of Thought, will open on March 11. Featuring some of the University of Cambridge’s most iconic and best-known treasures, it investigates through six distinct themes how both Cambridge and its collections have changed the world and will continue to do so in the digital era.

From October 2016, an exhibition featuring some of the University Library’s most unusual curiosities and oddities will replace Lines of Thought as the second major exhibition of the sexcentenary.

As well as these two extraordinary exhibitions, the University Library will also see dozens of celebratory events including the main UL’s 17-storey tower being lit up as part of the e-Luminate Festival in February. The Library is also producing a free iPad app giving readers the chance to interact with digitised copies of six of the most revolutionary texts held in its collections, including Darwin's family copy of On the origin of species, Newton's annotated copy of Principia Mathematica, and William Tyndale's translation of the New Testament into English, an undertaking which led to his execution for heresy.

University Librarian Anne Jarvis said: “For six centuries, the collections of Cambridge University Library have challenged and changed the world around us. Across science, literature and the arts, the millions of books, manuscripts and digital archives we hold have altered the very fabric of our understanding. Thousands of lines of thoughts run through them, back into the past, and forward into tomorrow. Our 600th anniversary is a chance to celebrate one of the world’s oldest and greatest research libraries, and to look forward to its future.

“Only in Cambridge, can you find Newton’s greatest works sitting alongside Darwin’s most important papers on evolution, or Sassoon’s wartime poetry books taking their place next to the Gutenberg Bible and the archive of Margaret Drabble. Our aim now, through our Digital Library, is to share as many of these great collections as widely as possible so that anyone, anywhere in the world, can stand on the shoulders of these giants.”

Image: A hand-coloured copy of Vesalius’ 1543 Epitome, one of the most influential works in western medicine. Click here to view in the Cambridge Digital Library.