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The Library is a major scholarly resource for both the members of the University of Cambridge and for external researchers.
Cambridge University Library comprises the main University Library and its affiliated libraries.
As at August 2015, 21 affiliated libraries were associated with the main University Library, which is often referred to within the University as "the University Library" or just "the UL".
The main University Library is one of the six legal deposit libraries under UK law, the others being the British Library, the National Library of Scotland, the National Library of Wales, the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, and the Library of Trinity College, Dublin.
Through legal deposit, purchase and donation it receives around 100,000 items every year.
The main 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 (for example Cambridge academics, postgraduates and undergraduates) to borrow from its collections.
These would have been kept in chests along with other valuables, rather than in a library building as would be recognised today.
A common 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." 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 onwards it received generous donations or bequests of books and growth was considerably increased once the privilege of legal deposit had been granted.