Reopening Cambridge University Libraries:
next steps


Recovery road map for physical collections and services

On June 30, we officially launched our first 'zero contact' services at Cambridge University Library with the start of both 'Click & Collect' and a staffed book drop. Our 'Scan & Deliver' service launched on July 6, 2020.

Our second phase of services launched on August 5. Book a Visit, Ask a Curator and Special Collections Scan & Deliver reintroduce access to non-borrowable collections at the University Library (UL), including Special Collections, West Room items and non-print legal deposit.

Now that the physical reopening of the UL is under way, we want to share with you our next steps - to set out our recovery strategy for the Faculty and Departmental Libraries (FDLs), and outline the next stages in our plan to maximise access to the physical collections at the UL.

We know how much the libraries mean to all of us at Cambridge, and just how much disruption to research, teaching and learning has been caused by COVID-19.

We would like to thank all our readers for their support and patience. We can’t wait to welcome you all back in person as our plans progress.


Our recovery plan is designed to phase in support for research over summer 2020, with a strong focus on the needs of postgraduate students, and a programme to ensure all physical library collections are accessible by Michaelmas Term to support the needs of teaching and learning for all staff and students, providing it is safe to do so.

We are working closely throughout with the College libraries, which each have dedicated recovery plans.

The early return of some postgraduate research students is following a carefully managed process.

If you plan to return to College accommodation you must first check that your Department and College have officially confirmed your permission to return via these processes. Your return date must be agreed in advance and the College will confirm final arrangements with you once this has been agreed. Do not travel to Cambridge without this confirmation. Your Tutor will also be able to offer or source advice and support if needed.

Where students are not intending to return to Department buildings, but are intending to ‘work from home’ in Cambridge, they are asked to confirm with their College that they are intending to return, even if they do not require College accommodation. This will allow Colleges to offer them practical advice on matters such as COVID-19 testing and to plan for an orderly return for those who do require College accommodation, dependent on whether such accommodation is available.

The University Libraries will do all we can to support you remotely with digital services and electronic resources.

This road map document covers:

  • Section 1: High Level Recovery Strategy
  • Section 2: Faculty and Departmental Library Recovery Programme
  • Section 3: Phased reopening of the University Library building

Section 1: High Level Recovery Strategy

Goal: We are committed to opening the physical library collections and services as soon as possible providing it is both safe to do so and is possible within the wider recovery plans of each host Faculty and Department. This will be a gradual and phased plan of action with the goal of the physical collections being fully open for Michaelmas Term 2020, with stringent observance of social distancing and other safety measures.

  • Online services will continue to expand: Digital library services and electronic resources support all staff and students and form an essential part of our recovery strategy for education and research. We will expand digital library services and electronic resource provision for the benefit of everyone, whether working/studying from home or on-site throughout 20/21. This will also help ensure the resilience of library services if there are future waves of the virus.
  • Physical reopening will be phased: As the UK Government recovery road map allows, we will implement a phased reopening programme for our physical collections and services, with Health and Safety a key priority at all times. The first phase will achieve a partial opening of the University Library, with core staffing on site providing zero-contact ‘click & collect’, ‘scan & deliver’ and ‘book return’ services. The second phase will expand ‘scan & deliver’ to include UL Special Collections, and reintroduce access to non-borrowable items through ‘ask a curator’ and ‘book a visit’ services at the University Library. In this phase we will also initiate the programme of reopening the collections of the Faculty and Departmental Libraries across Cambridge, subject to this being feasible within the recovery plan of the host Faculty or Department.
  • Priority library users: Whilst we want to reopen all our physical services as soon as possible to all library users who rely on our support, in the first phase our first priority will be dedicated services for current students and staff (including NHS partners) to support the University’s teaching, learning and research.

Jessica Gardner (University Librarian and Director of Library Services) is Sponsor of the CUL Recovery Plan and Chair of the Gold and Silver Recovery Teams for Cambridge University Libraries. Kirsty Allen (Chief Operating Officer) and Patricia Killiard (Senior Deputy Director) are the Deputy Chairs.

Progress through the plan may not be linear. It may be possible to combine phases or be necessary to return to an earlier phase if there are future waves of the virus.

* Hard lockdown – all physical services closed

* Soft lockdown – partial and controlled opening of selected services and sites

* Soft open – physical services are open but containment measures like social distancing remain

Section 2: Faculty and Departmental Library Recovery Programme


We are committed to ensuring  the physical collections across the 31 affiliated Faculty and Departmental Libraries (FDL) are accessible again in time for Michaelmas Term, providing it is safe to do so, and is feasible within the building recovery plan for each Faculty or Department.

The FDL programme will take place in partnership with academic staff and Departmental Administrators, to help determine the sequence and priority across each School for reopening collections and spaces for research, teaching and learning.

The needs of staff and students in each faculty will help determine which services are most needed and when, and how quickly we can achieve what is required providing safety conditions are met.

There is no ‘one-size-fits all’. Each FDL needs a site specific plan, with risk assessments for activity that will take place locally.

The FDLs in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences are the most immediate priority, reflecting the significance of physical collections in these subjects to research and teaching, noting also our focus on the Moore Library and Medical Library for STEMM disciplines.    

Screens have been added to the Reading Rooms as part of the COVID-19 protection measures.

Screens have been added to the Reading Rooms as part of the COVID-19 protection measures.


The following needs of library users will help shape the priorities for the programme:

  • Access to physical collections for staff to prepare teaching materials for Michaelmas Terms.
  • Access to specialist collections required for research, particularly in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, to complement what is available at the University Library.
  • Access to research space for postgraduate students.
  • Access to study space for taught students in time for Michaelmas Term.
  • Access to all physical collections for students by Michaelmas Term.

In a minority of cases there may be exceptions to reopening of the physical library site by Michaelmas Term, where site-specific safety factors determine this to be the case. In this scenario, our aim will be to ensure integrated access to the physical collection via services like ‘click and collect’ and/or ‘scan and deliver’. 

The FDL Recovery Programme also takes into account the potential for future restrictions, including regional or localised lockdown. If it is safe and legal to do so, this may include ‘soft lockdown measures’ with partial services facilitated through selected library sites.  

We will publish further information as soon as target dates become available for the first library sites to reopen within the FDL Recovery Programme.  

The FDL Recovery Programme is Chaired by Kirsty Allen (Chief Operating Officer, CUL), with Niamh Tumelty (Head of STEMM Libraries), Libby Tilley (Head of A&H Libraries)) and Linda Washington (Head of HSS Libraires).

Section 3: Phased reopening of the University Library building

We are now well on our way to reopening the physical collections at the University Library building, which holds more than eight million books and hundreds of thousands of manuscripts.

By July 6 2020, a suite of ‘no contact’ services will have launched to expand access to the modern physical collections to our staff and students:

  • Click & collect (launched June 30) – order your book online and collect in person at the UL
  • Scan & deliver (launched July 6) – order your digital scan online and (within copyright limits) it will be emailed to you.
  • Book returns (launched June 30) – either at the UL or via the external drop boxes on the Sidgwick site.

By August 5 we launched services to begin a phased reopening of access to the historic and specialised research collections at the UL:

Ask a curator (launched July 29) – anyone with an enquiry about UL Special Collections items can engage the help of our expert curators via phone or video call. Curators may be able to check material on behalf of readers.

Special Collections Scan & Deliver (launched August 3) -  staff and students may order free low-resolution digital scans for personal research use of items from Special Collections, Asian & Near and Middle Eastern Collections, maps, sheet music, microfilms and theses (if the material is suitable for scanning and the volume of the request is reasonable).

Book a visit (launched August 5) – all readers can request that specific non-borrowable items are fetched, and then arrange an appointment to come into the Main Reading Room or a Special Collections Reading Room to consult them.

By late September 2020, our goal is to have maximised access to study space and reading rooms at the UL, though we expect this will still be subject to social distancing and require access controls, including advanced bookings and a cap on numbers at any one time.

By mid to late October 2020, we expect to relaunch our exhibition programme at the UL, with a special show of treasures celebrating discoveries made during recent research on ‘palimpsests’ in the collection. We expect social distancing to be in place in the exhibition centre, and that our public programme is likely to be predominantly online until at least January 2021.

We will provide more detailed information for readers as our plans progress, and this may include changes in response to external or operational factors.

We are committed to reopening the physical collections and services for all our readers. The process requires care and control with a focus on the health and safety of everyone. We would ask for your support and understanding throughout, as our amazing staff are working so hard to bring the libraries to you. 

Michael Williams (Head of Collection Development and Management) is Chair of the Collections Recovery Task Force, responsible for the new ‘Click and Collect’, ‘Scan and Deliver’, and ‘Book Return’ services.

Mark Purcell (Deputy Director for Research Collections) is Chair of the Controlled Opening of Reading Rooms Task Force; Suzanne Paul (Keeper, Rare Books and Early Manuscripts) is Deputy Chair.

Staff at the UL working on the 'Click and Collect' service. Photo: Michael Williams

Staff at the UL working on the 'Click and Collect' service. Photo: Michael Williams

Photos from the UL as staff return to deliver the new zero contact services, and prepare for the wider phased reopening of Cambridge University Libraries.

Photos from the UL as staff return to deliver the new zero contact services, and prepare for the wider phased reopening of Cambridge University Libraries.

Photos from the UL as staff return to deliver the new zero contact services, and prepare for the wider phased reopening of Cambridge University Libraries.

Photos from the UL as staff return to deliver the new zero contact services, and prepare for the wider phased reopening of Cambridge University Libraries.