Cambridge University Library
The Map Department

by Anne Taylor
Head of the Map Department
Cambridge University Library moved to its present location on the western edge of the city centre in 1934. When it was opened, the new building (designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, who also designed Britain*s old red telephone boxes) was expected to provide sufficient storage until 1984. However, an extension had to be added in 1972 and further development has taken place since.

The Library now contains about 6 million books, pamphlets and periodical volumes covering all disciplines taught within the University. Cartographic materials can be found in several sections of the Library - Rare Books, Manuscripts, Official Publications, the East Asian collections - but the main concentration is to be found in the Map Department, which has its own Reading Room and specialist staff.

The Map Department

The first Head of the Map Department retired in 1928 at the age of 70, after 52 years service in the Library. Since that time there have been only three successors, including the present incumbent. This reluctance to move on is, perhaps, not surprising given the extraordinary range and quality of the holdings.

The Map Collection

The Map Department collection contains some 1,100,000 printed and manuscript maps as well as several thousand atlases, gazetteers and books about map making and the history of cartography. Superseded maps are never discarded. The collection also includes topographic views and a large (but unlisted) collection of topographic view post cards.

More details on the scope of the collection can be found at:

Unfortunately it is not possible to loan items.

The collection is particularly strong on British publications, since The Copyright Act, which entitles the Library to claim a copy of every new British publication, applies to maps as well as to printed books. Cambridge University Library was granted this privilege in 1709 but it was not initially fully exercised by the library. Today, however, vigorous efforts are made to acquire all publications from both official and commercial mapping bodies.

Modern and antiquarian foreign publications form another significant part of the collection. Where possible, all major national topographic map series at scales of up to 1:50,000 are acquired.

Maps and atlases by most of the principal British and foreign map-makers from the 16th century onwards are also represented in the collections.

Of particular note is the Gardner Copy of John Speed's The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine. This is a proof copy. The maps of Great Britain and Huntingdonshire are on display in the Library Exhibition Centre until 9 October 1999 (but closed 16 to 23 September). The exhibition commemorates the life of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658). For more details of the exhibition and for images of some of the Map Department items on display see:

For those interested in the study of Ordnance Survey maps, the Charles Close Society Archive of Ordnance Survey material is deposited in the Library. (Special conditions govern access to this collection, please contact the Map Department for more details).

Housed in the Rare Books Department is the Hanson Collection of the Cruising Association. This collection of some 700 items includes about 50 general and 50 maritime atlases dating from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. The collection was assembled by Herbert James Hanson who was, between 1914 and 1956, successively Honorary Secretary and then President of the Cruising Association. Most of the books are in excellent condition and many have fine bindings. Included is a ca. 1560 anonymous map of Zeeland which is possibly unique.

Who Uses the Collection?

The collection is of national, and in some areas, of international importance.

The primary aim is to support teaching and research within the University, but the use made of the collection stretches far beyond this narrow remit. The Library is keen for the map collection to be studied and for items from it to be included in cartobibliographies, etc.

The Map Catalogue

The Map Department catalogue is still overwhelmingly a card catalogue. It includes entries for separately published maps and atlases, for a large number of maps in books, for books on cartography and for gazetteers. The principal heading in the Map Catalogue is the first geographic place-name mentioned in the title, but entries are also made for other place-names and certain personal names. For more information see:

Catalogue entries for books and atlases added to the Map Department collections since the mid-1970s can also be found on the Library's on-line catalogue which can be accessed through the Library Web page. The Map Department has also started to catalogue maps for the on-line catalogue. To search the on-line catalogues see:

Opening Times

The Map Department is open from 09.30 to 12.45 and 14.00 to 17.10 from Monday to Thursday; from 09.30 to 12.45 and 14.00 to 16.50 on Fridays; and from 09.30 to 12.45 on Saturdays. Please note that the Department is not always fully staffed on Saturdays, so it is advisable to order material in advance.

The Library is closed at Christmas and New Year, at Easter, on the August Bank Holiday and for a week in September. The closed dates for 1999 and the opening times of the Library (as opposed to the Map Department) can be found at:

Access to the Collections

Cambridge University Library
Map Department
West Road

Personal Visitors:
All Visitors to the Map Department must first obtain a Library Readers' ticket. Occasionally admission may be refused and sometimes a charge is made. All enquiries regarding admission should be directed to the Admissions Office: Tel: +44 (0)1223-333084. Further details can be found at:

There is a map showing the location of the Library at:

Remote Enquiries:
We are happy to deal with enquiries by telephone, letter or email, but regret that it is not possible to undertake extensive research on behalf of enquirers.

Tel: +44 (0)1223-333041
Fax: +44(0)1223-333160  (marked for the attention of the Map Department)
email: [email protected]


Subject to copyright and conservation considerations we are able to provide reproductions from many items in the collections. Simply contact us for details. Please bear in mind that some types of reproduction may take several weeks. A price guide is available at:

All photographs in this article are courtesy of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library: they may not be further reproduced without written permission.