How Cambridge libraries work

Last updated: September 2019

There are over 100 libraries within the University of Cambridge and the colleges, which together form one of the most comprehensive information resources of any university. But how do you know which ones are right for you?

Each college has a library for its students. Some are larger than others and Girton’s is one of the larger libraries. Most college libraries are for use only by members of that college and this is also true for Girton, although non-members can make an appointment to see particular items if they are not available elsewhere in Cambridge. So please don’t bring non-Girton students into the Library at Girton and make sure that you ask permission of another college’s librarian before using that library.

At Girton, our main focus is on undergraduate needs and we aim to stock as much as possible of the recommended books for Part I of your Tripos. As you become more specialised, you will increasingly need to use other libraries.  However, if there is a book that you think we should have, you are very welcome to recommend it to us for purchase. You can find out more about Girton College Library from our Library guide.

The majority of departments have their own libraries. Depending on your subject, you might have one department/faculty library where you spend a lot of time (e.g. the Seeley History Library, if you are studying history) or you might have several (e.g. if you are studying medicine).  Each library has its own rules and different opening hours. You can find out more about each library using the libraries directory. Most department/faculty libraries admit members of the University that are studying other subjects and some also let them borrow. When you visit a library for the first time, introduce yourself to a member of staff so that they can register you and give you specific help.

All members of the University can use the UL and most can borrow its books. It is a library of legal deposit, which means it is entitled to claim a copy of every book published in the UK, sometimes in hard-copy, sometimes in electronic form. All new undergraduate, postgraduate students are registered with the UL so you don’t need to apply to join. You can find out more about the UL from its website, including video demonstrations. Tours of the UL can be booked via

As a member of the University of Cambridge, you have a wide range of electronic resources available to you because the University has paid subscriptions to those resources. Electronic journals give you access to up to date information and cutting-edge research. Electronic books mean that you are not just relying on printed copies. You can use many of these electronic resources without even being in a library or in Cambridge, using your UIS/Raven password.

It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of information that is available to you but there is also a lot of help available too. Start by asking a member of library staff and also have a look at our page of eguides and self-help.

You can use iDiscover to find out which libraries hold the items you’re looking for. For help using iDiscover, see our eguide: iDiscover.

Most of Girton’s holdings are listed in iDiscover. All of Girton’s holdings are listed in our own catalogue (Heritage). Use it to see if books are already on loan, see which items you have borrowed from Girton and renew them. You can reserve items that are on loan to someone else. Help using Girton’s catalogue is available in our various eguides: Searching for books using the Girton Library catalogue, Reserving books using the Girton Library catalogue, and Renewing books using the Girton Library catalogue.


Everyone has their own preferred way of studying – using books or computers or both, somewhere quiet or somewhere chatty. You are welcome to use the different spaces within Girton College Library in the way that suits you best. There are also the other computer rooms and quiet study rooms available 24/7.

Elsewhere, you can use Spacefinder to search out different study spaces according to different criteria. There is the Library toolbox containing online tools to help you make the most of University Library resources while you are on the move.

For more information visit CamGuides – designed to help students prepare for their studies in Cambridge, regardless of their subject or college. It focuses on some of the academic and information practices and skills that students commonly engage in, or require, for their degrees.

Further information about the Library

Jenny Blackhurst
t: +44 (0) 1223 338970