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Cambridge University Library is now open for ‘zero contact’ services from Monday-Friday. Please read more about our phased reopening of the UL and Faculty and Departmental Libraries.

Cambridge University Library


about re-opening


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] 


When will the University Library building reopen for readers?

We hope that by July 6, the University Library can begin to provide limited services for students and staff to return and pick up books ordered online. We are currently undertaking safety tests that need to be completed and certified before any staff return to the site. We will communicate updated information to library users, including phases of reopening, as soon as it is finalised.

Our plan will keep in step with the UK Government COVID-19 recovery roadmap. Libraries are included in Step 3 of the Roadmap, which will not be triggered before 4 July 2020.

Not all the services will reopen 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.

We also aim to introduce a new service for current staff and students to request a digital scan of physical items, subject to copyright law. Cambridge postgraduate students will be a priority focus as we phase in these services.

These are the first steps in a partial reopening for the University Library and further communications will follow to help staff and students plan their research as the Library phases in additional services. Controlled opening of the reading rooms, including access to Special Collections, will follow as soon as possible providing it is safe to do so, but will not be in this first phase.

It will not be possible for library users to enter the University Library, browse the stacks or use reading rooms or study space in the initial stages of return.


What are the first services you will introduce?

We will start with new ‘zero contact’ services designed to safely begin to expand access to world-class physical collections not available in electronic format.

Among the new services coming when Cambridge University Libraries staff can safely return to the buildings are: 

  • ‘Click and Collect’ – this new service will enable the ordering of selected physical books and journals online and to collect the items from a designated point at Cambridge University Library.  Entrance and exit will be carefully managed with a one in/one out approach.
  • 'Scan and Deliver’ – this new service will enable the ordering of digitised scans from the University Library collection where copyright rules allow. Special Collections are excluded.
  • Book returns - book returns will also be possible via the existing book drop facilities on the Sidgwick Site (next to the Faculty of English)

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

No. Research students who are not resident in Cambridge or unable to commute from home are reminded they must make arrangements with their College before planning their return to Cambridge. Public Health England advice is clear that students who do not need to return to a laboratory to conduct their research cannot yet return to Cambridge, and should not move household. The Library will do all it can to support you remotely and with digital resources.  

There will be clear communication from the University and Colleges when this is possible and such students will have to make arrangements with their College first.

Please bear in mind that there will be no physical access to the University Library in the first phase and services will be limited. We will prioritise postgraduate students in the new ‘scan and deliver’ service to help all those who continue to study remotely and communicate with you when the University Library opens up further.


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.

When it is safe and feasible, we will also integrate access to Faculty and Departmental library collections into new services based at the University Library. This includes new services to allow library users to order a book online and collect at the University Library, and for current staff and students to request a digital scan of physical items, subject to copyright law.


What is the UK Government guidance on reopening libraries?

The UK Government have published a roadmap to aid local planning as the lockdown restrictions are eased. The roadmap indicates that subject to review and the right conditions being met, public libraries can begin to reopen in Step 3 of the roadmap. The UK Government guidance is clear that safety conditions have to be met first and that this step will not be triggered before 4 July 2020.


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.


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. We want to be open for everyone as soon as possible. We also trust everyone will understand why the first priority in the phased exit of 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.

Research students who are not resident in Cambridge or unable to commute from home are reminded they must make arrangements with their College before planning their return to Cambridge. Public Health England advice is clear that students who do not need to return to a laboratory to conduct their research cannot yet return to Cambridge, and should not move household.


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.


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.

We are putting in place the necessary steps to introduce new services as a first phase of activity, to extend access to physical library materials currently unavailable electronically. These include a service to order a book online and collect it from the University Library, book returns, and a service to provide digital scans of some physical collections within copyright rules. These are designed as ‘zero-contact’ services, which we will introduce in advance of plans to reopen physical spaces for library users.

There is a lot of work already under way at the University Library in readiness to introduce this first phase of new services.

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.).

When will I be able to access Special Collections, like rare books and manuscripts for my research?

The University Library has world-leading Special Collections that are essential to research across the arts and humanities. The Cambridge University Digital Library provides free access to digitised versions of many key manuscripts and rare books, and can be accessed online from anywhere in the world with an internet connection. 10,000 additional images have been added to this site since the University Libraries closed to readers on 18 March 2020.

We are sorry but we cannot at this stage give a firm date by which the Special Collections reading rooms will reopen. This will be at a later phase in the recovery plan, once specific security and additional safety tests to protect people and collections have been met.

The specialist curatorial staff are all currently working remotely and will try to answer your queries in as much detail as possible. Please contact Special Collections with your enquiry.  


How many books can I click and collect and how many scans can I request?

We will publish full information and instructions about the new services when we communicate with the firm date on which they will be launched. There will be skeleton core staff team in place supporting these services, as most of the library staff will continue working from home for some time. Special Collections will not be available at all in the first phase and copyright restrictions will limit what we can provide to you.

In the first days of these new services, demand is likely to be high. We know you will appreciate that reopening the libraries represents a significant challenge and effort in these times and we would ask for your patience if we can’t respond to meet your request as quickly as you – and we – would like. The important thing is to get started. 


When will the study spaces and reading rooms be open?

Physical access to priority library users will be phased in when it is safe to do so. Once we are ready, this will include controlled numbers within safe occupancy guidance. A site specific plan is required and safety tests to be met at each of the Faculty and Departmental libraries and the University Library. We know how much it means for all our readers to start reusing their physical libraries. We are sorry that we cannot give a firm date when we will be able to invite you back in to study and consult collections via specialist reading rooms. We will communicate fully with you as soon as we are able to bring you new information, including how you will be able to book a session and who will be prioritise in the first days.


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

A book returns service will be established in the initial phase of reopening of physical spaces and services. This will be based at the University Library and through existing book drop arrangements on the Sidgwick Site. You will be able to return books there from any of the Faculty and Departmental libraries, and the University Library. We will make sure they are cleared from your record, put into quarantine prior to circulation to other library users, and returned to the right library on your behalf. No fines will be charged on overdue books, regardless of which Cambridge University library they were borrowed from.

We are also working with the college libraries to ensure you can return books wherever is most convenient to you. For those of you who are not returning to Cambridge, we will put in place alternative arrangements and will communicate these to you as soon as possible. A plan is being established at national level to help enable the return of books to libraries.