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Cambridge University Library


about re-opening

When the libraries across the University closed in March 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic, we collated Frequently Answered Questions to keep you informed of our services and our plans for reopening. We have updated these FAQs throughout the year. 

Whilst these questions and answers may still be useful to you, please be aware that you can find all current service information on the Using the Library pages, and we recommend you look at these first for the information you need, including what is required to plan your visit. 

Read more about the recovery plans for Cambridge University Libraries


Q. What is the plan for reopening Cambridge University Libraries?

We are committed to reopen physical services and spaces as soon as possible, providing it is safe to do so.

There are four core principles at the heart of our recovery plan:

  1. The safety of library users and library staff is paramount.
  2. We will continue to expand access to electronic resources and online support to enhance remote digital access to education and research throughout our recovery plans.
  3. Reopening the physical libraries and services will be phased, and it will be gradual. Not all physical libraries can or will reopen at once. We also need to be ready for plans to change if there are further waves of the virus.
  4. In the initial phases of the plan, priority will be given to current staff and students (including our NHS partners). We will expand our services for all as soon as possible.

Summary of the COVID-19 recovery plan [PDF] 

Q. When will the University Library building reopen for readers?

We are now able to begin reopening the University Library building. Our plan is in step with the UK Government COVID-19 recovery roadmap.

It is now possible for registered readers to Book a Visit to view pre-ordered material in the Main reading room or a Special Collections reading room. Please read the section on Which collections can I access in the building for more details. This service complements our existing services, and in many cases we will be able to help you with research enquiries without the need for you to come into the building.

Not all the services are reopening at the University Library at once. We are taking a phased approach to reopening guided by Public Health England advice, including safety principles and the need for social distancing for both staff and users. 

Q. Which collections can I access in the building?

If you are a registered reader, you may request that specific non-borrowable items are fetched for you, and then Book a Visit to come into one of the University Library reading rooms to consult them. Bookings should be made at least a week in advance of your visit.

When you book, you will be asked to list the material you wish to see, including - if you need them - reference works from the open shelves in the reading rooms. Only pre-booked material will be available to you during your visit; it will not be possible to browse the shelves.

You may order up to 5 items per visit. For print periodicals you may order multiple volumes as a single item, though we reserve the right to limit the number of physical items supplied on any one day. We appreciate that it may be difficult to determine what an item is, particularly for archival material.  Please give us as much information as you can and we will contact you to clarify your request.

You can request to see specific items from the following areas: 

  • Special Collections (find a list of all departments and collections on the Special Collections pages)  

  • Modern collection including:

    • non-borrowable material from the modern collections (normally ordered to the West Room)

    • reference works

    • non-print electronic legal deposit

Whilst the services we introduce in this phase of recovery will look very different to those you are used to, we are excited to take a great step forward in reopening access to our world-class collections.

These are the first steps in a partial reopening for the University Library and further communications will follow to help users plan their research as the Library phases in additional services.

Q. What other services are available?

In addition to Book a Visit, we have designed a range of services to safely expand access to world-class physical collections not available in electronic format.

These services are: 

  • Click & Collect – order selected physical books and journals online and collect the items from a designated point at Cambridge University Library. Entrance and exit is carefully managed through an appointment system and a one in/one out approach (available only to current staff and students).

  • Scan & Deliver – order digitised scans from the University Library collection where copyright rules and conservation principles allow. Special collections are included (available only to current staff and students).

  • Ask a curator – engage the help of our expert Special Collections curators who are returning to work in the University Library building. They will be able to discuss your questions over the phone or via a video call, and may be able to check material on your behalf in order to answer specific questions (available to all).  

  • Book returns – return books via the existing book drop facilities on the Sidgwick Site or via a drop-off point at the UL, which opens 10:15-15:45. All drop off points can accept UL, Faculty and Departmental and College items.

Q. I am a research student living outside of Cambridge. Can I return to Cambridge to use the Library?

At the moment, we hope that all current staff and students at the University can make use of our library services. Please see the University’s pages on advice for staff and students at the University and Colleges on novel coronavirus (COVID-19) for the most up-to-date guidance on travel and University services.  

Q. When will the Faculty and Departmental libraries reopen?

Before a building and library site can open, a series of safety tests have to be completed. This includes a safety test to determine if the building is safe to reopen and a safety test - or risk assessment – for planned activities like reopening the Faculty or Departmental libraries. We will work closely with the academic Schools, Faculties and Departments on joint plans to phase in the reopening of all the libraries when it is safe to do so.

Q. Library staff and collections are essential for teaching and learning. What services are available to support this activity now?

This is a top priority for library services which are supporting teaching and learning remotely via a range of services designed to keep the libraries open online for study, including:

We are also committed in our recovery plan to provide a new service to produce digitised scans of essential reading material (where copyright restrictions allow) to integrate into courses with the virtual learning environment (Moodle).

We know how important it is to have access to the physical collections and we will work hard, alongside the University’s Schools and individual Faculties and Departments, to have this in place as soon as possible, providing it is safe to do so.

Q. Who will be prioritised in the phased reopening of physical spaces and services?

Current University of Cambridge students and staff will be prioritised for services as we phase in the reopening of physical spaces and services.

We are proud to have a large active community of readers who rely on the University Libraries, from writers to independent scholars and we are delighted to be able to open up spaces in the reading rooms and access to non-borrowable collections to all our registered readers. We trust everyone will understand why the first priority in the phased exit from lockdown must be to extend access to current students and staff. This includes meeting the needs of current Cambridge postgraduates, as well as getting ready for teaching and learning in Michaelmas Term 2020. We will do our best to open up other services to registered readers as soon as we can.

Research students who are not resident in Cambridge or unable to commute from home should check the University’s pages on advice for staff and students at the University and Colleges on novel coronavirus (COVID-19) for the most up-to-date guidance on travel to Cambridge and University services.

Q. How will you ensure the safety of library staff and library users?

Safety is the first principle for reopening any building and any service across the University of Cambridge. We have adopted a phased approach to carefully manage reopening and we are following Public Health England requirements rigorously.

The University has set two detailed safety tests that must be satisfied. One safety test covers safe opening of the building. The other safety test covers planned activity that will take place. These safety tests cover a wide range of factors, from electrical testing to social and physical distancing, from cleaning regimes to quarantine of goods where required.

A series of safety protocols, including book handling and quarantine agreed with the University’s Head of the University’s Health, Safety and Regulated Services Division, underpin our approach.

As we gradually reopen areas of the University Library, we have prioritised safety principles and the need for social distancing for both staff and users. You will find aspects of your visit to the Library unfamiliar; information about some of the changes is given when you Book a Visit.

Government guidelines now state that face coverings should be worn in libraries and public reading rooms. We therefore ask readers visiting Cambridge University Libraries to wear a face covering in all areas of our libraries to keep everyone safe. We are highly sensitive and supportive to those staff and readers who are exempt from the expectation. Please visit the University’s Coronavirus Information pages for a helpful list of medical exemptions. 

Q. Why can’t you just reopen the libraries for readers now?

We have to make sure the library buildings are safe to reopen and that the activity planned is safe for library users and for library staff. Most of the University’s buildings have been completely closed during lockdown and there is a phased programme to ensure the buildings are safe to reoccupy. We are committed to reopen the physical library collections and services as soon as possible, providing it is safe to do so.

The site requirements needed before we can launch these services include:

  • Certification that the building is safe to reopen for agreed, controlled activity within safe occupancy levels for a small core of staff

  • Risk assessment and safety tests sign-off for the proposed activities (including arrangements for physical distancing, physical protection including Perspex, PPE, cleaning and hygiene regimes, digital infrastructure set-up, and book quarantine measures)

  • Consultation with required staff about their return to work (to ensure they can travel safely to work premises; have caring arrangements in place for dependents; to take account of shielding arrangements etc.)

Q. How many scans can I order?

If you only need one chapter or article from a print book or journal, please use the Scan & Deliver service. 

Scan & Deliver is an electronic document delivery service for current staff and students (including ICE staff and students, and NHS partners). Users will need a Raven account to access this service. Eligible users can request an individual scanned copy of one chapter (or 5%) of a monograph or one article per issue of a journal from the University Library's modern collections, subject to relevant conservation approval and copyright permissions.  A maximum of five requests per person per day can be made. The request form is available online. Copyright restrictions will limit what we can provide to you.

It is possible for current staff and students to request PDF scans of Special Collections items through Scan & Deliver, which involves a different ordering process. There is no specific limit on the number of scans; our Special Collections staff will follow up your request to discuss what is possible.

Q. How many books can I Click and Collect?

Click & Collect is a free service for our current staff and students (including ICE staff and students, and NHS partners). You will need a Raven account to access this service.  Eligible users can request books to be retrieved from the University Library's modern borrowable collections and make an appointment to collect them from a designated collection point at the University Library. Entrance and exit will be carefully managed with a one in/one out approach. 

The borrowing limit is 5 University Library items per person at any one time.   

If you currently have 5 or more University Library items on loan (excluding items from your college or faculty and department libraries) you can continue to request up to 5 items at any one time but you will need to return existing loans to make room on your account before you can collect them.  For example, if you have 2 University Library items on loan and request a further 5 University Library items you will need to return all of your existing loans before you can collect any further items. 

Items from other libraries will not affect the number of items that you can borrow from the University Library. 

You will need to allow 4 working days (excluding weekends) for items to be removed from your account.  Please bear this in mind when making an appointment to collect more requested items.

Q. When will the study spaces be open?

The Main Reading Room and a Special Collections reading room are now open for registered readers to pre-order non-borrowable items from our collections at the University Library and Book a Visit to consult them. 

We know how much it means for all our readers to start reusing their physical libraries and we're sorry we can't say exactly when study spaces will be open again across the libraries. The 31 affiliated Faculty and Departmental Libraries (FDLs) are committed to ensuring their physical collections are accessible again in time for Michaelmas Term, providing it is safe to do so, and is feasible within the building recovery plan for each Faculty or Department. The Faculty and Departmental Library Recovery Programme is taking place in partnership with academic staff and Departmental Administrators, to help determine the sequence and priority across each School for reopening collections and spaces for research, teaching and learning. 

We will communicate fully with you as soon as we are able to bring you new information.

Q. When will I be able to return books to the libraries?

Most books now auto-renew. But if this is not the case, please renew the book online in the usual way if you can, or email We will help you. You will not face fines for late return of overdue books caused by the Libraries being closed, illness, caring responsibilities, or self-isolation. Please don't try to return books to closed libraries. You will be able to return them once they reopen. 

For those who need to return books (for example you are leaving the country) and who are able to, Cambridge University Libraries have two drop-off boxes on the Sidgwick Site where books can be returned during the Libraries' closure. These will be emptied regularly, but the books will not be processed until the libraries have reopened. The books will remain on your account until the libraries reopen; there will be no fines on these books, but you may receive reminder notices, which you can ignore. We will make sure they are cleared from your record, put into quarantine, and returned to the right library on your behalf.

The University Library has a drop off point for returns that is open 10:15-15:45. The UL can accept books for Faculty and Department Libraries and for college libraries. The UL will return items for other libraries as they re-open; please note it may take several weeks for an item you’ve returned from these libraries to be removed from your account.

If when the libraries have reopened you still see the book on your account, please get in touch with the library.

Q. Are the Libraries' electronic resources still available for registered University of Cambridge staff and students?

Although many of our physical buildings are closed, University members have access to 800,000 e-books, 120,000 e-journal titles and 400 databases. We have created this webpage which lists all the electronic services and support available to staff and students of the University.

In addition, the Cambridge Digital Library has more than 500,000 images of more than 35,000 objects from our world-class collections freely available to everyone.

If you need further help, please email We will be making additional funds available to support teaching and learning, and working to make more of our resources available digitally where possible.

Q. I can’t visit the library but need help with a library enquiry. What should I do?

If you have a query about the modern collections or about using the library services, please email We will do our best to help you. Information on how to book a call or video chat with a librarian can be found here:

Anyone with an enquiry about Special Collections material can engage the help of our expert curators. They will be able to discuss your questions over the phone or via a video call, and may be able to check material on your behalf in order to answer specific questions.

Contact our curators directly to arrange a consultation.

Q. How do I keep track of all the books/AV material that I have borrowed?

Use your Library account which you will find in iDiscover - login at the top right of the screen. You can see when your items are due back. Remember you are highly likely to have auto renewals so books will just automatically renew for you, but if you ever get worried just contact your local library or ask via our Chat service which is available by pressing the orange help button on most pages.

Prior to May 2020, a monthly 'borrowing' statement was sent out on the first day of every month. At the moment these statements have been suspended. Once we are fully open we will reinstate this statement.

Q. Is the Medical Library open?

The Medical Library is on the Biomedical Campus. It is open, though unstaffed, for clinical staff of the CUH, clinical students and University postgrads and researchers 8am-5pm, Monday to Friday. A virtual service, including answering enquiries and arranging virtual one-to-one or group training is still available, by emailing 

Q. Are the Library’s public events still taking place?

No. In the light of the Government's COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings, we have cancelled events in our public programme (see We will continue to review the situation.

Q. How will I find out if the level of library services has to change in response to Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

The central point of information for staff and students will be the University's website: We will also update the library website and these FAQs as the situation changes and use social media to circulate messages.

Q. Will I get an answer to my online enquiry outside of normal library opening hours?

During this period of closure, our core hours of operation will be 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday. We ask for users' understanding and patience as we move to new methods and systems of working remotely, with the possibility of fluctuating staff levels moving forward. We cannot guarantee to answer your question outside of these core operating hours, but we will reply to you as soon as we are able.

Q. How can I get help with Open Access, managing research data and/or the library’s support for the REF?

The Office of Scholarly Communication teams will continue to respond to emails. Contact details are available at

Q. I’m a disabled library user and have a question or request, what should I do?

Please get in touch using the email address If you are a library user who needs resources in an accessible format we will do our best to continue to provide these wherever possible. We will prioritise services to support readers with disabilities.

Q. I have a document in a format that is not accessible to me, what should I do?

The SensusAccess service is designed to allow disabled students and staff at Cambridge (or those supporting them) to create accessible alternative formats of inaccessible digital documents. It is a free self-service facility. Click here to use SensusAccess to create an alternative format document.  

SensusAccess is easy to use, however an e-learning module is available that covers aspects such as converting tricky documents with SensusAccess and producing documents in DAISY and Braille:

Q. When will I be able to register/ renew my library card?

The registration office will remain closed for in-person appointments and so all cards must be renewed or applied for online. 

  • If your University Library card expired after August 2019, please see our renewals page for details of how to renew your card.
  • If you are a Visiting Scholar or a Visiting Fellow at Cambridge, please see here for details of how to register for our library services.
  • If you have a University Library card that expired before August 2019, or you would like to register for the first time, please see our page for new applicants.

Please see our registration pages for more information.