Orientation tour of the University Library

This is a summary of our Spring 2017 Information Skills Programme: Session 5

Welcome to the University Library

Where is it?

The University Library, a.k.a. the UL, is on West Road in Cambridge. There is also pedestrian and cycle access from Burrell’s Walk. Car parking is very limited, but cycle parking is plentiful and the U bus (for which we get discounted tickets with our university cards) stops just outside the back of the library.

Image credit: main_UL_building by Cambridge University Library / CC BY-SA 4.0

When you arrive at the UL walk up the wide steps and through the revolving door – as one of our party found out you do have to push the revolving door, it’s not automatic! If steps are a problem for you, there are lifts on either side of the steps.

Opening hours

9:00 -19:00

Monday-Friday in Full Easter Term (end April – mid June)

9:00 -16:45


The tea room and certain parts of the library have shorter opening hours. For full details see http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/full-opening-hours.

What can I bring with me?

Entrance Hall

There are certain restrictions on what you can bring into the library with you – see the video below for details.

When you enter the UL you will find yourself in the Entrance Hall. Turn left for the locker room where you can leave coats, large bags and anything else which cannot be taken into the library. You can bring food with you to eat in the tea room or courtyards – but don’t get it out in the reading rooms or bookstack areas!

The catalogue terminals

CatalogueHallNow you’ve deposited your belongings in the locker room, head back to the entrance hall, scan your card to get through the glass turnstiles by the entrance hall desk and go up the stairs. You’ll find yourself in a long, wide corridor.

Directly opposite you are catalogue terminals. These computers are set up so you can only use them to access the library’s catalogue, iDiscover. If you want to use computers for another purpose, e.g. accessing e-journals, you’ll find plenty more dotted around the building. To your right is the enquiries desk. This should be your first point of call if you have problems finding something or otherwise making use of the library.

Using iDiscover

The videos above give instructions on using iDiscover, but the key points to remember are:

  • Limit your search to University Library (if you don’t you’ll see books from college libraries and department libraries around Cambridge to which you won’t necessarily have access)
  • If the location is UL: Order in Reading Room or UL: Order in West Room, it needs to be fetched from storage by UL staff. If the location doesn’t say “order” it’s on the shelves and you can’t order it – you just go to the library and find it.
  • If necessary, order your books before arriving at the library and you won’t have to wait for them to be fetched.
  • Fetching usually takes around 30 minutes, but can be up to around 2 hours during very busy periods – the system will tell you the expected delivery time when you order.
  • If you log on to iDiscover from the catalogue terminal computers remember to log out when you finish.

Reading Room

ReadingRoomFrom the enquiries desk head away from the entrance hall, past the North and South Reading Rooms (groupwork spaces with sofas and armchairs), and you’ll arrive at the Reading Room; a large open, quiet space in which you can work.

You are very welcome to bring books from other parts of the library here. You can use laptops at desks where there isn’t a “laptop-free” sign – or if you want to avoid the clickety-clack of laptops go for one of the “laptop-free” desks.

Reading Room

The bookshelves around the edge of this room house general reference books (encyclopedias, dictionaries, etc.). These books can’t be borrowed and shouldn’t be removed from the Reading Room.

Ordered books

  • Pick up books you ordered with location UL: Order in Reading Room here
  • Books arranged by classmark (so you need to know that as well as the title)
  • Books ordered today on the stand behind the reference desk, books ordered yesterday are on the shelves on the side of the reference desk
  • You can take the books you order anywhere in the library to use them
  • Most books can also be borrowed

Electronic legal deposit computers

There are four electronic legal deposit terminals in the Reading Room – past the reference desk and on your right. This is what you need if you see this in the catalogue:


For more information about electronic legal deposit see http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/collections/departments/legal-deposit.

West Room


Behind the Reading Room is the West Room. If the book you want to see is fragile for any reason, this is where you will collect it from and where you will need to use it. In the West Room ordered books are collected from staff at the reference desk.

West Room

You’re also welcome to bring other books into the West Room and just use it as a space in which to work.

Recent journal issues

You will be able to access most journals online via the university’s subscription or in hardcopy in the Leventis Library. However, if you are looking for an article in a more obscure publication, you may need to use the UL’s hardcopy version. The UL’s journal issues are bound once there are enough issues for binding – usually every year or every 2 or 3 years depending on frequency – and shelved in the bookstacks. However, the most recent issues of journals, those that are not yet bound, are kept on the mezzanine level in the West Room.

Inter-library loan

If neither the Leventis Library, nor the University Library have a copy of the reference you require you can use the UL’s inter-library loan service. The inter-library loan team will try to locate a copy of the requested item, starting with the British Library and following up with other likely libraries in the UK and further afield. The cost for this service is just £6 per item (or £3 if you are a Cambridge University member). For more information see http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/collections/departments/inter-library-loans.



There are over 2 million volumes available on the open shelves at the UL. We visited South Front Floor 6 on our tour, but there are also bookstacks in North Front, South Wing, North Wing, corridors and above the Reading Room and West Room in West Four.

This is where you go to find open shelf items, but most bookstack areas also have some workspaces if you prefer these areas to the reading rooms.


Switch the lights on in the bookstacks! Image credit: cam university library by Chrisgel Ryan Cruz / CC BY-NC 2.0

There’s 42 miles of shelves in the UL! So the save energy, the lights in the bookstacks are on timers. To switch the lights for a particular area on, go to the front of the floor (the outside of the building) and find a dial on the end of the shelving at about shoulder height. Turn this and you’ll get up to about 15 minutes of light. If you still haven’t found the book you want when the light goes off it’s time to seek help from a member of UL staff!

Finding a book

The university library has its own classification system. Here’s a step-by-step guide to finding a book on the open shelves, using this example:


Step 1: Where in the library is it? e.g. South Wing, Floor 6

Step 2: Is there a P at the start of the classmark? In this case, no. A indicates the item is a periodical (a.k.a. a journal). On each floor of each area (e.g. South Wing Floor 6, North Front Floor 2) all the periodicals are at one end and all the books are at the other.

Step 3: What is the letter in the classmark? [That’s right – don’t start at the beginning of the classmark, jump to the letter] In our example we have a c. Find the books/periodicals with the right letter. The letter indicates the size of the book. There will be lots of c’s, some b’s and only a few a’s and d’s.

Don’t panic – things get more intuitive from here!

Step 4: What’s the number before the letter? 236. Find that on the shelves in the letter section you’ve found. There are likely to be a lot of books with this number.

Step 5: What are the numbers after the letter? 201.85. Right, now find this number within the books starting with the number you found in step 4.

If you would like to understand where the numbers in the classmark come from, the cataloguing team at the UL have produced this interesting guide https://englishcatcom.wordpress.com/2017/02/17/having-difficulty-finding-books-on-the-open-shelves/

Jumps in sequence

If there is a big jump in the sequence where your book should be, it could either be on shelves hiding behind a staircase or lift shaft, or it could be in an overflow section – books arranged on tables and occasionally the floor along the front of the room. If you are confused, don’t worry about asking a member of staff for help locating the item.

Reservation slips

10029523756_fb22aa7177_m2If you leave a pile of books unattended, and not obviously with paper, pens, etc., UL staff will assume it’s finished with and reshelve it. If you would like to reserve books for continued use in the library use a reservation slip. You can reserve up to 5 volumes for 3 days.

Borrowing a book

Entrance Hall

To borrow a book, head back to where you entered the library, but aim for the stairs on the other side of the enquires desk – the one next to North Front. At the bottom of the stairs, go to the circulation desk – the large round desk in the middle of the entrance hall and ask to borrow it.

Entrance Hall, image courtesy of TripAdvisor

You can borrow up to 20 items for up to 8 weeks – although if someone requests a book you have out you need to return it within 1 week, however long was left on the original loan.

The Golden Rule

If in doubt, ask!

If you’re struggling to order a book or confused by iDiscover when sat at your desk before going to the library – pop into the Leventis Library or email me (Lizzie) and I’ll usually be able to help you.

If you have trouble when you get to the UL ask at the enquiries desk or ask a member of staff at one of the reading room desks. Although they’re ‘silent’ spaces, you are allowed to ask questions! Just keep your voice down.




One thought on “Orientation tour of the University Library

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s