Illuminating Cambridge Libraries

Showcasing one library from each of the 31 colleges of the University of Cambridge, this Cambridge University photography series includes more than 1800 photographs of Cambridge college libraries. Fine art prints are for sale (scroll down), or have a look at the 160-page photo book

Award Shortlisted: International Photo Awards architecture, historic, and self-published book (2020); Historic Photographer of the Year (2018, 2019). See more in Awards and Books and Gifts.


“And so I spent some time pondering the idea that the nucleus of a university resides in its knowledge contained, preserved, and disseminated:

without a library, there is no university.”

– Sara Rawlinson, Illuminating Cambridge Libraries


Click on any Cambridge library below to browse and buy images from that library.

Award Shortlisted: International Photo Awards architecture, historic, and self-published book (2020); Historic Photographer of the Year (2018, 2019). See more in Awards and Books and Gifts.


“Sara’s book is feast for the eye and imagination. No detail escapes the artist’s lens. The idea of the library is deconstructed into unfamiliar shapes and angles, a shaft of light in a stair well, a solitary chair tucked by a bookcase, a long view up to a decorative ceiling. And yet the whole is put back to together, more than its parts, as we gaze at the photographs and fill the spaces with memory and reverence, for what Sara calls her ‘houses of the holy’.”

Dr Jessica Gardner
The University Librarian


Background

The Illuminating Cambridge Libraries photography series honours features that enable the dissemination and preservation of knowledge. With this series, I wanted to honour the many librarians in my life, to honour the libraries that kept me interested and interesting throughout the years, and to honour the concept of university education.

Cambridge Libraries

The world-renowned Cambridge University is home to over 100 libraries. While many belong to the departments, eg the Squire Law Library or the Earth Science department library, each of the 31 Cambridge colleges has its own library as well. In fact, most of the Cambridge colleges have more than one library. I chose to photograph merely one library from each of the colleges as part of this photographic series – and believe me, photographing 31 libraries is no small task!

The library ages span 564 years (from 1448 to 2012). Through my photography, I wanted to find out what lies behind and supports the centuries-old knowledge – and what inspires the creation of new contemporary libraries. I photographed the literal nuts and bolts of the libraries, I photographed the library grand views, I photographed the tiny corners and curiosities.

Exhibitions

Michaelhouse Centre

This Cambridge University photography series was exhibited Michaelhouse Centre (part of Great St Mary’s Church in the centre of Cambridge) on several occasions.

The Heong Gallery, Downing College hosted the Cambridge Libraries series in Feb 2019. The exhibition was curated and designed by Sara Rawlinson. Sara welcomed 570 visitors to see 207 photographs of 26 libraries in just 7 days. See the virtual redux here.

Final Exhibition

The finished series has not yet been exhibited (delayed due to covid). Please get in touch if you would like to host or sponsor the final exhibition.

Are Cambridge libraries open to the public?

So many people ask me, so… Most of these libraries are “working libraries” – meaning that they are full of students, and hence are not open to the public. However, quite a few of the more historic Cambridge libraries are open to the public. Several libraries are regularly open to the public (during non-covid times), and some are open only for special exhibitions and Open Days. At the time of writing, these include: Wren Library at Trinity College, Old Library at Queens’ College, Library at King’s College, Old Library at Christ’s College, Parker Library at Corpus Christi College Pepys Library at Magdalene College, and at times the Old Library at Trinity Hall. Please check their websites for further information and detailed library opening hours.

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