Visiting Cambridge University Library: Practical Notes

I’m told that my notes on making manuscript research trips to the British Library were useful, so here’s something in a similar vein for another library with very significant manuscript holdings, Cambridge University Library.

  • Travel: Cambridge has decent bus-route connections and a good rail link with London (King’s Cross). Note that Cambridge’s railway station is a distressingly long walk from the real city centre.
  • Accreditation: you can begin working out how to apply for access here (at the time of writing). You can fill in an online application form beforehand and then turn up with your supporting documents on the day.
  • CUL differs from many libraries in not permitting coats or big bags in any part of the library, not just in special collections. There are lockers at the entrance, which aren’t coin-operated. You can bring a big clear plastic bag to carry your stuff (or buy one fairly cheaply at the library).
  • The Manuscripts Reading Room is on level 3 in the North Wing.
  • Manuscripts itself has its own set of lockers outside its door for items which are allowed in the library but not in the reading room; you can borrow the key to one of these from the reading room staff.
  • Manuscript request forms are kept at the room’s main staff desk.
  • In my experience fetching times are wonderfully fast, about five or ten minutes for medieval manuscripts as (I’m told) these are kept very close by. However, there is no fetching between 1-2pm, so plan your requests accordingly!
  • Personal research photography is permitted. You have to fill out a one-time form.
  • If you’re working on English material, the library has a collection of EETS volumes on the open shelves elsewhere which you can pick up and take in with you…
  • Food: CUL, unusually for a research library, has a tearoom within the library itself, also in the North Wing. It isn’t viciously overexpensive and does hot food at lunchtime. And as far as I’ve observed they don’t mind you eating a packed lunch in there.

I rather like CUL: among the places I’ve visited for research it’s probably been one of the smoothest both administratively and logistically.

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