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Image from: Drawings of Egypt, GBR/0115/RCS/RCMS 117. Cambridge University Library.

Online catalogues

An increasing number of RCS collections may be located via online catalogues and portals.

iDiscover - a catalogue of published material in Cambridge University Libraries.

This includes catalogue records for nearly 66,000 items, including rare books and pamphlets, special collections such as the Cobham collection on Cyprus, colonial and Commonwealth periodical holdings, Colonial Blue Books, official publications from Malaysia, Hong Kong, the West Indies and many parts of Africa, yearbooks and commercial directories, staff and civil lists, bibliographies, monographs on Africa, Canada and Cyprus, and Commonwealth fiction and poetry.

The online catalogue includes published material on the Commonwealth, and member countries, held in University of Cambridge libraries.

iDiscover LibGuide  - provides helpful tips and advice for searching iDiscover.

RCS OP project webpages  and Official Publications LibGuide - provide guidance on locating official publications

As only 25% of published collections are currently catalogued online, if you fail to locate information via our online catalogues, try the card catalogue located in the Rare Books Room behind the glass wall.

ArchiveSearch -  a finding aid for archives and primary sources, including including manuscript archives and photographic collections.

You can refine your archive search by ARCHON code: Royal Commonwealth Soc. (GBR/0115); as well as by geographical subject or personal/company name. For more guidance, please refer to the ArchiveSearch LibGuide.  ArchiveSearch enables you to locate relevant material not only in the RCS collections, but across many Cambridge archives.  Cataloguing of RCS material is ongoing, with approximately 80% of RCS collections catalogued to date.  It is recommended to check regularly for new collections.

Cambridge Digital Library  -  a platform for the discovery of digitised material and research outputs from the University of Cambridge and beyond.  

Currently 19,000 digitised images of photographs, manuscripts, artefacts or archives from the RCS collections may be discovered through browsing or searching Cambridge Digital Library.

The RCS Photographers Index provides a biographical index to photographers known to have taken images in the RCS photograph collection. There are links to digitised images, where available. It should be used in conjunction with ArchiveSearch and the typescript photograph catalogues.

The RCS Photograph Project gallery is a thematic gallery which illustrates the breadth and quality of the RCS photograph collection. There are currently over 700 digital images in the gallery, with associated metadata. Topics range from military and transport images to townscapes and images of daily life, and from missionary work and religious and civil ceremonies to work in mines and farming. These images may also be accessed in the University's repository, Apollo.

Other catalogues

Significant parts of the Royal Commonwealth Society collections have yet to be catalogued online. Enquirers able to visit Cambridge are therefore also recommended to use the following catalogues:

Card catalogue

This is located in the Rare Books Room, behind the glass wall. It includes entries for monographs, pamphlets, journal articles, official publications, directories and yearbooks, periodicals and annual reports across the Commonwealth and colonial territories.

The card catalogue includes 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.

The Blue Ring File (located on the low shelf beside the catalogue) gives more information about using the catalogue, including a list of the most common abbreviations and subject headings used.

Please bear in mind that the card catalogue includes items re-catalogued on the computer catalogue. Please check the computer catalogue for new shelf marks.

Photograph catalogue

This is located in the Manuscripts Reading Room. It consists of 60 spring-back folders, containing detailed descriptions of collections and individual photographs. The first folder explains the layout of the catalogue, which is organised primarily by country, with separate volumes for special named collections.

To determine which folders contain photographs of which country, refer to the Royal Commonwealth Society Country Classification Guide. The prefix Y30 precedes the country classification – e.g. Y3022 refers to photographs of India; Y307 photographs of the West Indies.

There is also a card index of to portraits held in the RCS photograph collection, although this is not fully comprehensive and researchers are advised to use it in conjunction with the photograph catalogues. It is divided into two sections - portraits of members of the Royal Colonial Institute and other portraits. The Portraits Index is located on a windowsill in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Approximately 45,000 photographs are included in the microfiche edition of the Royal Commonwealth Society Photograph Collection, published by IDC. There are two boxes of microfiche and an accompanying guide. See: 

Guide to the microform collection, Royal Commonwealth Society, London, photograph collection, edited by John Falconer. (Leiden: IDC, 1988). This guide is shelved with the other catalogues behind the Superintendents' desk in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

The photograph catalogues should be used in conjunction with the Photographers Index and RCS Photograph Project gallery

Manuscript and Archive catalogue

The manuscript catalogue of the library of the Royal Commonwealth Society, edited by Donald H. Simpson. London: Mansell, 1975. ISBN 0720104483

A copy of this published catalogue is kept in the Manuscripts Reading Room behind the Superintendents' desk. Copies are also available in many research libraries around the world.

Most manuscripts and archives have been catalogued on ArchiveSearch where descriptions may be browsed and searched, along with those of other Cambridge archives.

Contact us

Please address enquiries about RCS holdings to:

RCS Curator
Cambridge University Library
West Road


Please note that we are unable to provide valuations.  We recommend you contact a specialist antiquarian bookseller or auction house.