skip to content

Cambridge University Library


Cambridge University Library's Special Collections are one of the world's most important collections of global documentary cultural heritage. They include the oldest and most valuable materials in the Library, in manuscript, printed and artefact form, as well as modern maps and music. The oldest inscribed item in the collection is a Sumerian clay tablet with lines of text in cuneiform script, dated to ca 2200 BCE.

We are committed to using Special Collections to support research and teaching, and to developing digital services in partnership with Cambridge Digital Library, Cambridge Digital Humanities and others to make the collections openly accessible to the widest possible audience in new and innovative ways. At the same time, we recognise the enduring importance of the physical collections. Our Conservation and Collection Care Department plays a vital role in preserving this unique cultural heritage, ensuring its continued care and accessibility for future generations.

Exhibitions, talks and activities are held year-round as part of our programme of public events: for more information see the Library’s What’s On guide, and the webpages of the Friends of Cambridge University Library and the Cambridge Bibliographical Society. Many of our exhibitions are also available online and items from the collections are showcased as part of Cambridge Digital Library.

You can keep up with the latest news and events on our Special Collections blog or by following us on Twitter @ULSpecColl.

In 2020 the Special Collections were awarded Designated status by the Arts Council England. The Designation scheme identifies the pre-eminent collections of national importance held in England’s non-national museums, libraries and archives, based on their quality and significance.


Image credit: Crested white bird on snow-laden camellia branch. From Shi zhu zhai shu hua pu (FH.910.83–98, p. 11), the earliest Chinese book printed by the technique of polychrome xylography known as douban.