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 (collectively termed Special Collections). 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.


The Working Library is now open to junior members and Fellows during staffed hours. 

Please visit the Library FAQs for information on current access arrangements and available facilities.

Working Library

Under normal circumstances, the Working Library is open to all current members of the College twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The Issue Desk is staffed 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

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

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.


Search iDiscover for items in St John's College Library

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

Old Library & Special Collections

The Old Library at St John's

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.

Visits to the Old Library for individuals or groups with a specialist/research interest in the history of the building or its collections may be arranged during staffed hours by advance appointment with the Special Collections Librarian. The Old Library is open to the public on several days throughout the year with themed exhibitions in conjunction with University Festivals. 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.

Copies, images, and licensing

Reproductions may be ordered in a variety of formats, from reading copies for private research to high-resolution images for publication. The College's permission should be sought for the reproduction of materials from the Special Collections in any publication, website, or public presentation. The permissions process is straightforward. Requests and queries should be directed to the Special Collections Librarian.

Find out more about Special Collections

Biographical Records

Biographical collection


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. 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.

Find out more about the Biographical Archive

College Archives

Items in the College archives


The 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.

Find out more about the College Archives

Exhibitions & Outreach

Visitors view an exhibition in the Old Library


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 school visits and educational resources. For more information please contact Kathryn McKee, Special Collections Librarian (email:, tel: 01223 339393).

Find out more about exhibitions, school visits and educational resources


Working Library 25th Anniversary Brochure

This special publication celebrates 25 years of the Working Library. It features accounts of its historical development, changing functions, and staff and student memories during the past quarter century.


Annual Report

The Library publishes an Annual Report, summarising the department's varied activities over the course of each academic year. You can access the Reports online (from 2009 onwards) or in hard copy in the Library.



The Library produces a termly newsletter, to update College members on the department's activities and to highlight aspects of the Library's collections and services. You can access the newsletters online (from 2017 onwards) or in hard copy in the Library.


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. Previous surveys (from 2013 onwards) can be accessed online. All those who use the Library are particularly urged to provide feedback to the Librarian at any time.




The Eagle Online

Three copies of the Eagle on a desk


The first issue of the St John’s annual record, The Eagle, was published in 1858. Since then, with at least one issue being published each year, The Eagle has become a significant part of College life. Many students, Fellows, staff members, alumni and guest writers have contributed to its pages. The entire run of The Eagle is now available online, thanks to the long-term efforts of Library staff.

Access, browse and search The Eagle

Contact the Library

Library general enquiries

Tel: 01223 338669 Fax: 01223 337035 Email:

Sub-Librarian and acting Head of Department

Kathryn McKee, Tel: 01223 339393 Email:

Academic Services

Janet Chow, Tel: 01223 338662

Special Collections

Enquiries, Tel: 01223 339393 Email

Biographical Records

See the Biographical Records Enquiries page

College Archives

See the Archives Centre Visiting & Contact page

Outreach and school visits

Kathryn McKee, Tel: 01223 339393 Email:

Postal address

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


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Useful Links

A view of the Chapel through a window in the library


Cambridge University Library

Cambridge University Library gives access to online services 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.


Designed specifically for undergraduate and Master's students at Cambridge, CamGuides provide information on academic research skills, referencing and using digital resources.


Resources in the UK

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

Library Hub Discover (formerly COPAC) is a union catalogue giving access to the combined book catalogues of 137 UK national, academic, and specialist libraries.

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

Archives Hub provides access to the archival collections of over 300 UK institutions. 

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.