An Engineer’s Guide to Cambridge Libraries

Daniel Mackinnon 29 November 2019
Image Credit: Catlander

Week 8. It’s cold, wet and miserable.

You’ve been staring at the wall above your desk for far too long. Nothing makes any sense. There’s only one thing to do: keep grinding. But where?

If you stay in your room and plan on pulling an all-nighter to get through it, you will only be productive for roughly half the time. What you need is a ticking clock…

How do you give yourself a ticking clock that isn’t 9 am the next morning? Give yourself a challenge. Say this: I’m only allowed to work on my essay in the library, and they’ll kick me out at 6 pm, so I’ll have an essay and a lovely, relaxing night without work.

Now comes another question: which library?

MML Library

Not the prettiest, but very cosy and you’ll have a great view of Seeley and Law

If I was asked to describe this library in one word, it would be friendly. You sit on tables situated between bookshelves so, even if you’re not using any of them, it feels like you’re a real student. All the colours are warm, the librarians are very nice and, most importantly, they give you biscuits and squash during exam term. Just turn up at three and you can take as many as you like.

As it’s open at the weekends, you never have to leave! Most libraries are closed at the weekend, so this place has a few cheeky extra perks.

Don’t let work become your entire life. It can be far too easy to think there’s nothing else to life at Cambridge. There’s also crying and hating yourself.

The only downside to the MML library is the fact that you can see onto the only piece of grass in Sidgwick, where there’s almost always someone having fun… just taunting you while you’re stuck inside being bored to death by your latest piece of work.

This is without a doubt the best library in Sidgwick. If you have a lecture/supervision in Sidgwick and have some spare time, I would definitely recommend having a look.

Biscuits, squash and comfy seats. Truly the pinnacle of Cambridge libraries.

Rating: 9.5/10

Whipple Library

This hidden gem is located on Free School Lane behind Corpus.

A rogue choice. It’s usually empty. Rather than being silent, it feels simply quiet. There’s no air of “talk and be shushed”, just a peacefulness of nobody being there.

It’s the History of Science library, so there are some fascinating books about ancient experiments and “scientific knowledge” such as writings in a book on Biology that scorn the idea of evolution!

With a two-minute walk from market square, this is without a doubt the best library in the centre of town and you can always go to Sainsbury’s on the way back to college without too much of a detour.

The only point of contention for this library is the lack of light. It’s not too dark to work but the lack of bright light can create a rather moody vibe.

On the flip side, this is absolutely perfect for nursing a hangover after Sunday Life or a formal where pennying was perhaps a little too prevalent. If you’re ever looking for somewhere to work with minimal light and no loud noises, look no further than this jewel.

Rating: 9/10

Engineering Library 

Dull but useful: just like an engineer!

It might seem weird, but the most illiterate subject in Cambridge does somehow have a library. Situated on the first floor (but you still annoyingly have to go up two flights of stairs) of the Department, it is one of the true wonders of Cambridge Libraries, ticking all the following criteria:

  • Every desk has a plug and a light you can switch on.
  • There is a silent zone and a non-silent zone, rather like a train.
  • There is a room with desks arranged so that you can work on group projects together.
  • Just across the first-floor landing is the DPO (Design Project Office), a room with anywhere from one hundred and fifty to ten thousand computers (nobody really knows… ) .
  • One floor up is a café with free tea and coffee (bring your own cup).
  • Every Tuesday at 2:30, they fill one of the rooms with chocolate, sweets and drinks.
  • It has 05:00 – 23:00 access every day, subject to card access (make friends with an engineer so you’ll never be left without somewhere for an essay crisis).

Seems like the perfect space, right?

Unfortunately, not quite. Just like an engineer, it ticks all the boxes without having any pizzazz.

The desks are quite narrow – perfect size for a laptop, but not all your lecture notes and examples papers.

Rather like a train, you can get looks for being too loud in the non-silent zone.

Everything is grey; from the walls to the desks to the view out the windows (namely a roof). Spending too much time in there can quickly become mind-numbing, and I’m not just saying that because I study engineering.

Overall, the Engineering Library is much like the standard Cambridge engineer: very functional but not particularly attractive.

Rating: 8.5/10

If you’re ever looking for somewhere else to study, look no further than the University’s workspace finder. You can add filters based on light, wifi, location and much more.

Just head to to find out more.