Skip to main content

Discover the College Library

Welcome to the College's Library pages. The College Library is divided into two sections. The Old Library dates from 1624 and houses historic manuscripts, rare books and personal papers. The modern Working Library houses borrowable books and current periodicals, as well as computer and work facilities which members can use at any time of day. It has over 120 reader places and capacity for 120,000 books on open access.

The College is also home to extensive Archives and a superb Biographical Office. More information about all these world-class facilities can be found below.

Working Library


The Working Library is open to all members of the College twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The Issue Desk is staffed at the following times:

09:00 - 17:00 Monday - Friday

Accessing the Library

Entrance to the Library is from Chapel Court. During staffed hours the front door is unlocked. Outside staffed hours the door is locked and you will need to use your access card at the card reader beside the door to enter and leave the Library.

University Cards

All junior members are issued with a University Card, which enables you to borrow items from the College Library. Readers can borrow items from the issue desk during staffed hours, or by using the self-issue system at any time. Your University Card is for your personal use only. You are responsible for any items issued on your card.

Library Catalogue

iDiscover offers a fast, intuitive way to search library collections across the University. A simple search will generate results from all libraries in the University. An advanced search enables you to limit your search to specific libraries.

Click on the search box below to visit the iDiscover website.


Search iDiscover for books in St John's College Library only.

The University Library runs a variety of training sessions, and quick guides to using the catalogue are available online via the link below. Library staff will also be glad to assist you, so don't hesitate to ask!

Old Library

The Old Library is a two-storey, seventeenth-century building situated in Third Court and is accessed via the Working Library. It houses the College's special collections, which may be consulted in the Rare Books Reading Room on the ground floor.

Opening times

The Old Library and Rare Books Reading Room are open Monday to Friday 9am-1pm and 2pm-5pm. They are closed Christmas Eve to New Year's Day, Good Friday to Easter Monday, and on August Bank Holiday.


All those wishing to consult material from the Old Library should arrange an appointment in advance by contacting the Special Collections Librarian, Kathryn McKee on 01223 339393 indicating the material they wish to consult. All readers will be required to show identification and complete a reader's form upon arrival. Our special collections may only be consulted in the Rare Books Reading Room under the supervision of a member of staff.

Individuals or groups wishing to look round the Old Library should arrange an appointment with the Special Collections Librarian in advance. Members and staff of the College may visit during opening hours without prior appointment, and may bring guests.


The Rare Books Reading Room has desk space for ten readers and houses a collection of catalogues and bibliographical reference books. The room offers wireless connectivity and readers are welcome to bring their own laptops. Photography may be permitted at the discretion of the Librarian.

Biographical Records


The College Biographical Archive, one of the best collections of its kind, is housed with other special collections in the Lower Library, and covers every Member of the College - over 43,000 - since comprehensive admissions records began in 1629. Further information about the Archive may be found here.

It combines information on birth, parents, schooling and academic career, drawn from College and University sources, with notes on later lives and careers and an ad hoc collection of press cuttings, letters and miscellaneous documents. It is the cumulative work of College Fellows and others, beginning in the eighteenth century, and is still actively maintained today. Together with a related collection of books and pamphlets, which are a rich source of biographical information, the archive provides material for genealogists and biographers, and is used to answer a wide variety of enquiries.

You can contact the Biographical Librarian Fiona Colbert on 01223 338772.

College Archives


St John's College Archives contain records of the growth of the administration, benefactions, finances and property of the College since its foundation in 1511. They also include some deeds and financial records of earlier foundations annexed to it, namely the Hospital of St John the Evangelist Cambridge, the Hospital of St Mary at Ospringe, and the Priory of Higham, Kent, and of the Priory of Broomhall, Berks; and household accounts of the Foundress, Lady Margaret Beaufort, 1498-1509. Among the records of the Cambridge Hospital of St John is a thirteenth-century cartulary whose numerous deeds shed light on the people, property and occupations of Cambridge and the surrounding countryside.

These resources are available for use by the members, staff and students of St John’s, the wider academic community and the public. The Archives acquire, preserve and make accessible the records of the College, its members, staff and students.

Further information about the College Archives may be found here.

Exhibitions & Outreach


The Library is committed to continually improving access to its outstanding Special Collections. Our Exhibition Area is open to the public, providing a series of displays throughout the year on various aspects of the College and the Library's collections. We have also developed a dynamic programme of Schools Visits and Educational Resources. For more information please contact Kathryn McKee, Special Collections Librarian. Email:, Tel: 01223 339393.

Full details about exhibitions, school visits and further educational resources, may be found here.

The Eagle Scanning Project


As part of a long-term project, Library staff have overseen the digitisation of the entire run of the College magazine The Eagle. The results are available in PDF format. Please read the 'tips for searching'. Optical Character Recognition does not operate perfectly with these scans, given tight bindings, the occasional blemish in printing, and the variety of typeface across time. However, we hope that this resource will prove of considerable use to researchers and readers.

Read The Eagle online

Tips for searching The Eagle

List of Eagle volumes

Useful links


Cambridge University Library Resources

Cambridge University Library Catalogue gives information on the holdings of the main University Library.

Cambridge University Library Information Servicesfor access to online services provided by the University Library, including:

Cambridge Departmental and College Libraries

University of Cambridge Libraries Directory gives access to information (i.e. opening times, contact details, web-sites, etc.) on the dependent, departmental and college libraries of the University.

Cambridge University Archival Resources

Janus is the union catalogue for archives in Cambridge University and its Colleges.


Resources in the UK

The British Library Catalogue, for information on the holdings of the British Library.

COPAC (Catalogue of the Consortium of University Research Libraries) is a union catalogue giving access to the combined book catalogues of 22 major research libraries in the UK and Ireland, as well as the British Library.

The National Archives (formerly the Public Record Office and the Historical Manuscripts Commission) site provides useful archival resources relating to the UK.

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography offers comprehensive biographical information on over 50,000 individuals who have influenced British history.

Resources further afield

Worldcat is the world's largest library catalogue, and is particularly useful for finding resources in American academic libraries. The European Library is a portal offering access to the combined resources of the 43 national libraries of Europe. 

User Survey

Every four years, the Library undertakes a thorough survey of readers' responses to the services that we provide. These exercises contribute directly to the development of Library strategy. Below you can find full details of the most recent survey. All those who use the Library are particularly urged to provide feedback to the Librarian at any time.

Sponsor a shelf


St John’s is committed to maintaining the best-provisioned College library in Cambridge.

To achieve this we make every effort to maintain and expand the Working Library collections, bringing in the latest published research and writing across all disciplines studied by undergraduates in the University.

In parallel we strive to ensure the currency of the existing collections by acquiring the most up-to-date editions of core texts and course books, many of which are reissued annually. In some subjects, notably the sciences, medicine, engineering and law, multiple copies are often purchased to meet the academic needs of our students.

The Library contributes annually to the centrally managed eresources@Cambridge online collection, giving access to a wide range of electronic resources. Yet printed books are still the most commonly used learning resource and, according to the 2013 Library Survey, the majority of our students expect this to be the case for the foreseeable future.

In 2012/13 more than 19,000 hardcopy items (books, journals and audio-visual materials) were borrowed from the College Library, representing a 42 per cent increase on the previous year’s borrowing. In 2013/14 this figure rose by a further 12 per cent to 21,363 items. In order to meet this increased demand we must boost our level of investment in our collections correspondingly.

How you can help

As it has done for centuries, the College relies heavily on the generosity of its alumni to guarantee its high standards of academic provision. There are many calls on the Library’s budget which, over and above the provision of printed books, covers the needs of the Old Library and the Archives, conservation requirements, support for electronic resources and paper journal subscriptions.

You can assist the Library in achieving its aims through our new Sponsor a Shelf scheme, details of which are set out below. Though donations of all sizes are most gratefully received, in order to ensure our collections remain up to date we hope you will consider contributing on a regular basis. If you are eligible to reclaim Gift Aid, the value of your donation will be increased by 25 per cent at no cost to you.




This will allow us to…

We will thank you by…

Sponsor a shelf

£25 a month, £75 a quarter or £300 a year.

Maintain an entire shelf of books in a subject area of your choice.

Commissioning a personalised shelf label to be displayed in your chosen subject area.

Adopt a book

£5 a month, £15 a quarter or £60 a year.

Purchase a new book in a subject area of your choice each year.

Commissioning a personalised bookplate to be inserted into a new volume as it is added to the borrowable collections.

Each donor will have their support acknowledged in the College’s list of donors, published annually in The EagleThe Marguerite and on the College website. Regular donors will also receive a complimentary copy of the Library’s detailed and highly informative Annual Report.

How to give

We are extremely grateful to everyone who participates in this exciting new initiative. Whether you wish to make a regular gift by Direct Debit or a single gift by credit card or cheque, simply complete the online form here (selecting ‘Other’ from the drop-down menu and typing ‘Sponsor a shelf’ in the comments box), or download and complete the donation form attached below and send it by post to: Development Office, St John’s College, Cambridge CB2 1TP.

To discuss other levels of giving, or for further advice on how to make your gift, please contact Will Evans, Annual Giving Officer, on 01223 760988.

Library events

Here are the forthcoming events taking place in the Library:

  1. - to

    This exhibition traces the story of life in the Master’s Lodge over the last five hundred years. The Master’s Lodge is a curious mix of the public and private. Traditionally, the Master has been responsible for entertaining and accommodating the College’s most important guests. Official business of the College has been conducted by the Master from the Lodge. But it is also a family home.

  2. - to

    Born in Cambridge in 1952, Douglas Noël Adams liked to joke that he was ‘DNA’ in Cambrid

Contact Library staff

Library general enquiries

Tel: 01223 338669 Fax: 01223 337035 Email:

Secretary to the Librarian and Head of Information Services and Systems

Angela McKenzie, Tel: 01223 765649

Academic Services

Janet Chow, Tel: 01223 338662

Special Collections

Kathryn McKee, Tel: 01223 339393 Email:

Biographical Records

See the Biographical Records Enquiries page.

College Archives

See Visiting & Contact for the Archives Centre.

Outreach and school visits

Kathryn McKee, Tel: 01223 339393 Email:

Postal address

The Library,
St John's College,
Cambridge, CB2 1TP.