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Cambridge University Library


Not all special collections material is contained in the online catalogues. In particular, only a small proportion of our medieval manuscripts, music, maps and Royal Commonwealth Society collections is currently catalogued online. A guide to the main catalogues is given below, but please consult staff if you would like any further information or help with searching the collections.

Printed material


iDiscover is the best place to start your search for printed special collections held at the University Library. Records for newly acquired items can be found in iDiscover. Rare books acquired before 1995 were added to the Pre-1978 General Catalogue (the ‘Guardbooks’); records for all of these items should now be available online as well.

Supplementary Catalogue

Located in the south corridor outside the main Reading Room, this contains records for items published before 1977 that were not considered to be of academic importance at the time of receipt (for example, novels, children’s books). Most of these items still cannot be found in iDiscover, though work to add records is ongoing.

Card catalogues

There are also several card catalogues for special collections, which can be consulted in the relevant reading room. The majority of catalogue records contained within these card catalogues will not be found in any online catalogues.

  • Map Department card catalogue. Catalogue records for most of our 1.3 million maps can only be found in the Map Department's card catalogue. (Note that items catalogued since 2000 can only be found in the online catalogue - so you need to look in both places!)
  • Music Collections card catalogues are located in the Anderson Room. The main music card catalogue contains entries for ca. 300,000 scores. It was begun in 1934 and was closed in 1989. The arrangement of cards under each composer is classified and the guide card for most composers' names gives a list of the classification numbers, which are at the top of each card. Anonymous works and collections are entered under title. The supplementary catalogue of secondary music is in two parts, covering the periods from 1853 to 1911 and 1912 to 1983.
  • Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) Card Catalogue. Records for about 250,000 publications can only be found in the RCS card catalogue. This is located in the Rare Books Reading Room, behind the glass screen. Monographs, pamphlets, journal articles, official publications, directories and yearbooks, periodicals and annual reports across the Commonwealth and colonial territories are included. There is an author catalogue, a biographical catalogue, a periodical titles catalogue, a catalogue of society publications and a subject catalogue; the latter sub-divided firstly by geographical region and then by subject chronologically. Please be aware that the card catalogue includes about 66,000 items re-catalogued on the computer catalogue.
  • Official Publications card catalogue. Since 1999 the more important works have been catalogued in the online catalogue. Pre-1999 material is accessible through a subject-catalogue on cards in the Rare Books Reading Room annexe. It is in three sections: the United Kingdom; foreign and Commonwealth countries (except India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) and intergovernmental organisations; India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Blue Books (British Parliamentary Papers) have their own set of bound indexes standing next to the card catalogue. Indexes to House of Lords papers are available on request.
  • Rare Books specialist departmental catalogues. The Rare Books Reading Room contains a number of specialist card catalogues and other catalogues for items such as almanacs, ballads, chapbooks and portraits. Further information on these, and on provenance indexes, can be found here.

Archives and manuscripts


ArchiveSearch provides access to more than 1800 catalogues of archives and manuscripts held throughout Cambridge.

Not all archives and manuscripts holdings can be located on ArchiveSearch. The majority of our medieval manuscripts, for example, are catalogued in the five volumes of the Catalogue of the Manuscripts preserved in the Library of the University of Cambridge and in the Summary Catalogue of Additional Medieval Manuscripts in Cambridge University Library acquired before 1940 by Jayne Ringrose.  Further details of these and other, selective listings of the medieval manuscripts at Cambridge University Library, see: Search the Collections and the Medieval Manuscripts subject guide

Other material is catalogued on external websites such as The National Archives catalogue Discovery and ArchivesHub, while others are only available in paper catalogues and the card catalogue found in the Manuscripts Reading Room. If you’re searching for material you believe we may hold but can’t locate on ArchiveSearch, please try these other resources – and when in doubt, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Cambridge University theses can be searched for on iDiscover. This catalogue includes post 1970 theses. Information on previous ones is available in the Manuscripts Reading Room (visit the Theses, dissertations and prize essays page for further information).

Asian & African Collections

Fihrist: Islamic Manuscripts Catalogue Online

Near & Middle Eastern Manuscript Collection and catalogues

Chinese Collection catalogues

Japanese Collection catalogues

South Asian, Tibetan & Southeast Asian Collection catalogues