Cambridge University Library is the main research library of the University of Cambridge in England. It is also the largest of 114 libraries within the University. The Library is a major scholarly resource for the members of the University of Cambridge and external researchers. The Library comprises the main University Library and 21 affiliated libraries associated with it. It is often referred to within the University as the UL.
Cambridge University Library is one of the six legal deposit libraries under UK law. The Library holds approximately 8 million items (including maps and sheet music) and, through legal deposit, purchase and donation it receives around 100,000 items every year. The University Library is unique among the legal deposit libraries in keeping a large proportion of its material on open access and in allowing some categories of reader to borrow from its collections.
Its original location was the Old Schools near the Senate House until it outgrew the space there and a new library building was constructed in the 1930s. The library took over the site of a First World War military hospital, the First Eastern General, on the western side of Cambridge city centre, now between Robinson College and the Memorial Court of Clare College.
The current librarian, Dr Jessica Gardner, is only the second female librarian to hold this office.
By the middle of the fourteenth century, Cambridge University owned a collection of books. These would have been kept in chests along with other valuables, rather than in a library building as would be recognised today.
A common university library can be traced to the beginning of the 15th century, with the first direct reference to a ‘library’. In March 1416 the will of William Loring was proved, which bequeathed three volumes to the library thus: "Item volo quod omnes libri mei juris civilis remaneant in communi libraria scolarium universitatis Cantebrigg' in perpetuum." In the second decade of the fifteenth century the Library found a home on the newly built Old Schools site.
The earliest catalogue is dated ca. 1424, at which time there were 122 volumes in the library. The second earliest surviving catalogue was drawn up in 1473, and denotes 330 volumes. From the 16th century, the Library received generous donations or bequests of books and growth was considerably increased once the privilege of legal deposit had been granted.