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Rare Books Services

The Munby Rare Books Reading Room is open to readers from 09:30 to 17.00 Monday to Friday. The Room is reserved for readers who wish to consult items printed before 1900, and other items for which the Library catalogue gives the location 'Order in Rare Books Reading Room'. More information on the rare book classes is available through the Collections page.

Please note that from 17.00 to 18.50 Monday to Friday, and 09.00 to 16.30 on Saturdays, Rare Book materials are consulted in the Manuscripts Reading Room on the third floor above the Rare Books Reading Room. New items can still be requested and any materials already ordered can be transferred. Access to reference material and card catalogues can be arranged by asking a member of staff. For further information please ask any member of staff in either reading room.

The first time you come into Rare Books each day, the staff member at the entry point will ask you to sign the daily register sheet. You only need to do this once each day: owing to staff shift changes, you may be asked if you have already signed in and we appreciate your understanding around this. 

Ordering rare books

Rare Books material is kept in secure closed access stacks and needs to be fetched for you on request. You will be directed to the Rare Books Reading Room by records in the online Library catalogue. Most Rare Books can now be requested through the online catalogue, with full instructions here. Books can also be requested by completing paper request slips, and advance orders can be made by email to, allowing a full working day's notice. Please complete a request slip for each item you wish to view and hand to staff at the desk, who will ask to see your Library membership card. Fetching usually takes around an hour, depending on the time of day and levels of demand. The request service 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.  

Books fetched are kept for five days before being returned to the closed access stacks. When collecting your order, you must sign a receipt for each item; you are 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, who will return your signed receipts to you. If you would like to consult 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.

Some low use early material is now stored off-site at the Library Storage Facility. This primarily applies to newspapers and periodicals, many of which are also available online. Newspapers up to 1900 are fetched to Rare Books, and periodicals dating to before 1850. If your search result shows the location "Order from Library Storage Facility (Not borrowable)", you may request it online and an automated email will let you know when the material is ready and which reading room to consult it in.   

Handling of rare books

Readers are reminded that rare book material should be handled with the greatest care, including recent publications. Book rests and cushions 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 staff to hold books open. Any member of staff will be happy to assist if you would like help with preparing your books for reading. Rare Books is a Pencil Only reading room; if you need a pencil, please pick one up from the staff desk.

Reservations and transferring material

Rare Books can be reserved for five days as standard, or longer if necessary on request. Please hand your books to staff at the desk, with a completed blue reservation slip in each one 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. 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.

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 Reading 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.

Laptops and wireless networking

Readers may use laptop computers in the Room at any desk. Plug sockets are provided in all the desks, and adaptors are available at the Staff Desk if needed. Access to the eduroam wireless network is available in the Room for current staff and students of the University of Cambridge with a Raven password and members of applicable higher education institutions. Other users of the Library are welcome to use the UniOfCam-Guest wireless network, by selecting the Library reader option and logging in.

Photography and other imaging services

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. 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, 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.

The Cultural Heritage Imaging Laboratory can provide high quality images for publication or other purposes. Details of services and prices are available on their webpages.

A conservation-standard overhead scanner is now available in the Rare Books Reading Room, to produce low-resolution research images of material fetched to the room. Images can be saved as JPG or PDF and there is the option to use OCR on texts while saving PDFs; the files can be emailed, or saved to a USB drive. Readers must check with staff each time they wish to use the scanner, as books must be assessed first to ensure they are suitable, and staff may refuse a book if it is in fragile condition or too large for the scanner. This service is available during Rare Books Reading Room opening hours. Images produced on the scanner are for personal use only. For publication-quality images please use the CHIL imaging service

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).


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 (curatorial team 01223 333122; Rare Books Reading Room 01223 33117).

Opening hours

Monday - Friday: 9:30am to 6.50pm (operating in the Manuscripts Room from 5.00pm)

Saturday: 9:30am to 4.30pm, operating in the Manuscripts Reading Room

Sunday: closed

Please note that the Rare Books Room itself closes at 5.00pm Monday to Thursday and at 4.45pm on Fridays; our services relocate to the Manuscripts Room after these times.

On Saturdays 18 and 25 of May no new fetching will be available: we apologise for the inconvenience.

On Monday 20 and Wednesday 22 May we will relocate to the Manuscripts Reading Room all day. 



Contact us

Rare Books Department
Cambridge University Library
West Road
Cambridge CB3 9DR

Phone: 01223 764111