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Online catalogues

The library catalogue is iDiscover. Staff can assist with using it and help you to find what you need. Guidelines for using iDiscover to find Special Collections items are available (opens as PDF). 

Records for newly acquired Rare Books can be found in the online catalogues. Works acquired before 1995 were added to the Pre-1978 General Catalogue (the ‘Guardbooks’); records for all of these items should be available online as well. Nevertheless, readers may still need to consult printed catalogues and indexes for some rare book material acquired before 1995; details of these are given below. Many of these catalogues are incomplete and readers who are unable to find what they want or experience difficulties in using the catalogues are strongly recommended to ask for help from the staff.

Specialist departmental catalogues


Almanacs are catalogued under their author or title in the pre-1978 General and Supplementary Card Catalogues, and under 'ALMANACK' [sic] in the Supplementary Slip Catalogue. There is a card catalogue of almanacs from 1501-1800 – arranged in chronological order and in two divisions: 'British' and 'Foreign' – in the Rare Books catalogue annexe. Many almanacs can also be found online. For other almanacs which are not listed in these catalogues enquire in the West Room at the Periodicals Desk.


The Madden collection of ballads consists of 16,354 broadsides, comprising almost twice as many separate poems, and is mainly confined to the period 1750-1850. The broadsides are arranged according to town and printer and include complete collections of several printers. A card catalogue in the Rare Books catalogue annexe lists the ballads by title. Ask at the Staff Desk for the index to printers and a brief guide to the collection by R.S. Thomson. More information about the contents of the ballads can be found on the website of Thomson Gale who microfilmed the collection. There are two additional card catalogues: Irish ballads in class Hib.; and ballads in other collections. These also stand in the cabinets in the Rare Books annexe. Some of these ballads are also catalogued online. 

Book sales catalogues

The Library has an excellent collection of English auction catalogues relating to the sale of books and manuscripts, with extensive holdings of Sotheby's and Christie's catalogues back into the mid-nineteenth century, alongside catalogues of many of the major booksellers of the last century. A copy of the List of catalogues of English book sales, 1676-1900, now in the British Museum (1915) annotated with Cambridge holdings stands at B885.1. This includes many sales not specified elsewhere in the Library's catalogues. A. N. L. Munby's heavily annotated copy is at Munby.c.532.

Handwritten lists of Christie's and Sotheby's catalogues received since the early 1970s, and Bloomsbury Book Auctions since 1978, are available from the Superintendents at the Staff Desk, as is a guide to the Sotheby's microfilm collection (1734-1970); the microfilms should be ordered in the Manuscripts Reading Room. Recent catalogues issued by Sotheby's and Christie's are being added to the online catalogue, and the most recent issues stand in the Rare Books Room in the low cases by the glass partition; others will be fetched on completion of an order-slip. Sales catalogues for other auction houses dated 1 January 2018 onwards are stored at the Library Storage Facility and may be ordered online. 

An annotated catalogue of the Munby collection can be ordered at the Staff Desk (classmark Munby.a.16). This collection includes circa 1000 English auction catalogues, 108 booksellers' catalogues and some 60 proposals and specimens, most of which are catalogued online. Some early foreign catalogues are entered in the Old Catalogues or online. Many of the sales catalogues held in the Library have not been listed in any catalogue or index, especially booksellers' catalogues. Readers looking for catalogues are therefore advised to ask the staff if they do not find them in the catalogues or the indexes above.

Searchable spreadsheets of the Library's collections of book sales and auction catalogues are gradually being created and uploaded. More recent years include not only library sales but also fine arts and collectables. These spreadsheets can be accessed here.

British books 1501-1800

The great majority of our holdings of British books are listed in iDiscover. Our holdings are also recorded in the online English Short-Title Catalogue (ESTC), though classmarks are not always included and you may need to cross-check with iDiscover. Many of our pre-1700 holdings are listed in annotated copies of Pollard & Redgrave's Short title catalogue of books printed in England, Scotland & Ireland ... 1475-1640 (STC) and Wing's Short-title catalogue of books printed in England, Scotland, Ireland ... 1641-1700, which are kept at the Staff Desk. If we do not hold an original pre-1801 British publication, digital copies of many are available. The primary databases are Early English Books Online (EEBO) for books published up to 1700, and Eighteenth-Century Collections Online (ECCO) for books published from 1701 to 1800. These resources are accessible to all users within the Library building on a Digital Resources Access PC or logged in to the wifi, and to University members with a Raven password elsewhere. 

Microfilms are also available for these series, though our holdings do not cover everything available on EEBO and ECCO. If you would like to consult a microfilm copy rather than a digital one, please ask staff at the Rare Books Reading Room for assistance. ESTC records include the reel numbers for microfilms as well as direct links to the digital databases. 

Cambridge Collection (Cam)

Most of the books and many of the pamphlets in class Cam are catalogued online, but some pamphlets and other ephemera are entered only in a card catalogue in the Rare Books catalogue annexe. Readers interested in other ephemera relating to societies, colleges, or general University and city affairs should consult the annotated copy of the Cambridge Papers classification, or the spreadsheet of student societies linked to on the Cambridge Papers page. Neither of these lists individual items held. Other information on the University and its societies is held in the University Archives or Manuscripts collections; please ask in the Manuscripts Reading Room.


The card catalogue of chapbooks, which is in the Rare Books catalogue annexe, lists some 3,500 items printed in Great Britain and Ireland between 1750 and 1850; records for those printed before 1800 can also be found online. Roughly 60% of the items are 'chapbooks' (popular pamphlets distributed by chapmen or hawkers, rather than booksellers) in the true sense of the word, while the remainder are simply examples of early popular literature. The great majority are in the class CCA-CCE.7 while the Irish publications, around 5%, are mostly in class Hib. The books are indexed by author's name (where known), or by any proper name (fictitious or genuine) in the title, or by the first word of the title. The books are arranged by firstly by size and secondly by subject classification; the full scheme is available here. The class catalogue can be requested at the Staff Desk. A manuscript index of printers is available for the chapbooks bequeathed by J. W. L. Glaisher (around 900 items), kept at the Staff Desk. Approximately 1750 further chapbooks and similar items published abroad are catalogued in a second sequence of cards following the British and Irish material, arranged in the same manner.


A five-year project to create electronic records for the library's fifteenth-century printed books was completed in September 2014; all are now accessible via iDiscover. Before this work was undertaken, classmarks for incunabula were to be found only in an annotated copy of J. C. T. Oates' Catalogue of the fifteenth-century printed books in the University Library Cambridge, kept at the Staff Desk. Two online provenance indexes are also available, detailing former owners of incunabula in the Library's collections. The first lists personal ownership, the second institutional ownership. Owners are listed alphabetically, followed by brief details of the incunabula associated with them. Clicking on the links will extract the full bibliographical record for each item from the Library's online catalogue. Information on the Library's incunabula can also be found on the international Incunabula short title catalogue (ISTC) and on the Material Evidence in Incunabula (MEI) database. An incomplete card catalogue of incunabula belonging to some college libraries stands in the Rare Books catalogue annexe, but this catalogue is no longer updated and does not include items acquired in the last twenty years. Published catalogues of incunabula held in several Cambridge colleges stand at B111.7-13. Various colleges have undertaken or are in the process of undertaking projects to produce updated catalogue records in iDiscover for their incunabula.


Miicrofilms of early printed material are consulted in the Manuscripts Reading Room. Staff can assist with identifying the film you require. Much of the early material printed in the United Kingdom is available online through the databases EEBO and ECCO and we recommend searching these in preference to using microfilms. A catalogue of other microform series held in the Library is available in the Manuscripts Room and some are listed online. Some items from microform series are also catalogued separately. There are card catalogues for items in the microform series French political pamphlets, 1547-1648 and Witchcraft in Europe and America (1,045 works published between the 15th and 20th centuries; an Author Index is also available to download as a PDF file) next to the supplementary catalogues in the corridor outside the main Reading Room.

Official Publications

Post-1999 material in the Official Publications collection can be found in the online catalogues. Much pre-1999 material is accessible only on a card catalogue in the Rare Books Room. For further information, see the collection description page and ask staff for assistance. 


A card catalogue of the photographs and separate engravings in the Library's portrait collection is available from the Staff Desk. Most of the portraits in this collection are of people connected in some way with the University, and readers unable to trace British portraits here should also consult F. O'Donoghue's Catalogue of engraved British portraits preserved in the ... British Museum, London 1908-1925 (R405.134). The E. H. L. Jennings portrait collection is a collection of around 100,000 foreign portraits, mainly from continental Europe and the U.S.A. The key and card index are incomplete and are not on public access, but staff will search the volumes on request. Other portraits are held in deposited archives (e.g. those of Cambridge Antiquarian Society), which should be enquired for in the Manuscripts Room. Some of the portrait paintings and drawings in the Library are listed in J. W. Goodison's Catalogue of Cambridge portraits, Part 1, Cambridge 1955 (405:8.b.95.4 or Cam.b.955.2).


The Library's collections are rich in provenance evidence in many different forms, not all of which is yet fully discovered or catalogued. For more information see the page on Rare Books Provenance.

Royal Commonwealth Society

The collection of the Royal Commonwealth Society is catalogued entirely on a large card catalogue that came to the University Library with the collection itself in 1992. Many items are now already included in the online catalogues, but for those which cannot be located, readers will need to consult the card catalogue. For details, please see these guidelines. Members of staff in the Rare Books room can assist with identifying material and translating the card information into classmarks. 

War of 1914-1919

The War card catalogue in the Rare Books catalogue annexe contains author and anonymous title information for items in the War of 1914-1919 collection (WRA-WRE, also known as the War Reserve Collection). Many of the books in the collection appear online in the First World War Online database. However, ephemera and a large number of pamphlets and minor periodicals are listed only in the card catalogue. Class catalogues for the collection WRA-WRE, which list items in shelf order, can be ordered at the Staff Desk to allow 'virtual browsing'. Much of WRA-WRE has now been microfilmed by a commercial publisher. In many cases, we no longer fetch the original items, but require you to consult the microfilm. Staff will assist with identifying the relevant film, which will the be fetched to the Manuscripts Reading Room.  

Older catalogues

Pre-1978 General Catalogue (the ‘Guardbooks’)

On the walls of the Catalogue room, located at the centre of the Library between the North and South reading rooms, and just beyond the main gallery above the Entrance Hall. This catalogue includes records for material thought to be of academic interest, published between 1501 and 1978 and purchased before 1995. All of the records should now be available online. Books are entered under author or issuing body, or the first word of the title if anonymous. There is no general subject access to the majority of this material, although books about an individual are entered under their name, and there are special volumes (shelved following Z) for dictionaries, directories, encyclopedias & grammars.

Supplementary catalogues

Books published from 1800–1905 that were thought to be of secondary interest were listed in the handwritten catalogue in the corridor outside the main Reading Room. There is also a card catalogue of books published from 1906–1978 of ‘secondary interest’: this includes much supplementary material relating to the First World War that complements items in the War of 1914–1919 collection. A project to create online records for all items in the sheaf catalogue and for items in the card catalogue up to 1919 was completed in 2012 and works by major figures are being added to iDiscover selectively. 

Card catalogues

There are also several card catalogues in the corridor outside the main Reading Room, which contain some Rare Books material. These include:

Pamphlets: some English and foreign pamphlets, and certain unbound works (foreign novels, etc.) published between 1800 and ca. 1960. Some of these items now have online records.
Microform series: card catalogues for items in the microform series French political pamphlets, 1547–1648 and Witchcraft in Europe and America (1,045 works published between the 15th and 20th centuries; an Author Index is also available to download as a pdf file). 

Contact us

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

Phone: 01223 764111