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Rare Books Services

The information at the top of this page describes services currently available. It was updated on 10 January 2022. 

  • In person services

The Rare Books Reading Room is currently open for pre-booked visits only. The room is open from 9:30-13.30 & 14.15-18:15 Monday to Friday, and 9.30-16:00 Saturday.

Readers must request material in advance; no books can be fetched on the day. Please use the links on the Book a Visit page to request up to five items for consultation. Material from other departments can be consulted alongside Rare Books, and must be requested through the same booking system. A member of staff will check that your books are available, and send a link to the online seat booking system. At present there are 15 spaces available per day, with new slots released 10 calendar days in advance. If you are unable to book a space, do check the booking system regularly as cancellations sometimes free up spaces at short notice. 

Your books will be ready on the table when you arrive; staff will have a list of table numbers. Please wear a mask throughout your visit unless exempt. Self service photography is still possible. We cannot currently offer photocopying, but please see below for Scan and Deliver services. If you wish to reserve your books for another visit, reservation slips are available on the tables. You can then submit another Book a Visit request, and enter in the Notes field that you have material on reserve. Please also see our Reader Guidelines

  • Scan and Deliver

We are able to provide free-of-charge scans from Rare Books to current students and staff of the University of Cambridge. Full details are available on the Special Collections Scan and Deliver page, including how to place a request and the timescales involved. 

  • Ask a Curator

Members of the Rare Books curatorial team are available to answer your queries about Rare Books collection items. While staff are mainly working from home, there may be a delay before we are able to fetch up items where this is required, and we appreciate your patience. Staff can send snapshots of pages if required to answer your queries, and we can also offer video consultations where a member of staff can show materials on screen and discuss them with you. Please send your enquiries to the departmental email address, A list of contacts for all Special Collections departments can be found here



Information below is here to explain our services during normal Library opening. Until normal service can be restored, please refer to the details above. 

The Munby Rare Books Reading Room is open to readers from 09:00 to 18:50 Monday to Friday. The Room is reserved for readers who wish to consult items printed before 1900 (with a few exceptions in specialist classes), 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 on Saturdays Rare Book materials are consulted in the Manuscripts Reading Room on the third floor above the Rare Books Reading Room. The Manuscripts Reading Room is open from 09:00 to 16:30. 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

You will be directed to the Rare Books Reading Room by the location given on an item record in the online Library catalogue. Paper request slips can be found on the staff desk; it is not currently possible to order Rare Book materials online but 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. Items will usually be fetched within 20 minutes. Please ask at the desk after this time to consult your books. Fetching 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 sent back to the shelf. 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; they will check the items against the signed receipts, which will then be returned to you. If you wish to see 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 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 reading room staff to hold books open. Pencil only must be used in the Room and marking of books is forbidden.

Reservations and transferring material

Readers who wish to reserve rare book items for further use should hand them to the staff, together with a completed blue reservation slip 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. Reserved books are normally held for five days. 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.


Items from rare book classes and special collections are generally not borrowable, though exceptions may be made for a small proportion of post-1899 publications. Some reference books from B10-B990 may also be borrowed. All enquiries concerning borrowing should be made to the Superintendents. Please note, it may not be possible to prepare material for loan immediately and readers may be asked to return later the same day, or on a Monday if a loan is requested on a Saturday.

Laptops and wireless networking

Readers may use laptop computers in the Room at any desk. Plug sockets are provided in all the desks, and readers may plug their computers in directly. Adaptors are available at the Staff Desk if needed by users of computers with two-pin plugs. Access to the UniOfCam wireless network is available in the Room for current staff and students of the University of Cambridge with a Raven password or to Eduroam for members of applicable higher education institutions. Other readers can apply for access via a time-limited ticket available at the Reader Services Desk in the Library entrance hall.

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. You will be asked to read the information sheet on self-service photography. 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.

Photocopying can be done by the staff of the Department on some material; small orders will usually be ready for collection on the following day, but large orders can take several days. We are not able to photocopy on Saturdays, so requests for copies placed on Fridays will be available from the following Monday at the earliest. Completed orders shoudl be collected from the Reader Services Desk in the entrance hall.  Other imaging work can be carried out by staff of the Digital Content Unit. Details of services and prices are available on their webpages.

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: 9.30-13:30 & 14:15-18:15
Saturday: 9:30-16:00

Please see for information on how to book an appointment to work with Rare Books. 


Contact us

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

Phone: 01223 333117