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Reading List Guide: Using electronic resources

Introduction to the Library's Reading List Service

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For core readings, electronic books and journals provide the best learning experience for students. They support 24/7 access and shared use across large student cohorts in a way that is not possible through the circulation of print material.  

The Reading List Team will always try to purchase electronic versions of the items on your reading list when available. If there are print materials in your teaching which are not available digitally, consider whether a scanned extract, or alternative online materials, would be suitable.

E-book licences:

Publishers provide electronic access to books and journals under a variety of different licences. 

Our favourite licence model is ‘unlimited’ and ‘DRM-free’. This means that there is no limit to the number of patrons that can access the text at one time, and no limit to the amount of the text that can be downloaded for offline use per session.  

However, some licenses are more limited, and may only allow one student to gain access at a time, or 10% of a book to be downloaded for offline use at a time.  

When this is the only available license type, we may still be able to purchase multiple single-use licences to improve access. We receive statistics when users are unable to access e-books or e-journals due to licence restrictions (turnaway statistics), so we can monitor student demand and buy further licences when required. 

Internet archive:

This online resource contains many full text scans of print books, particularly those published before 2000. A student can make a free account on this website to be able to ‘borrow’ access to these scanned titles. Best used sparingly as copyright around this resource remains contentious. 

The University holds a copyright licence from the CLA (Copyright Licensing Agency). This allows us to scan and make available extracts from print materials.  

  • These scans are hosted on the CLA’s Digital Content Store, accessed through a URL which will look something like:  
  • Providing access to scans in this way is much more accessible than in PDF format, which has limited functionality with screen readers, and lower overall usability.   
  • Within copyright rules we are usually able to provide a digital scan of one chapter or journal article, or up to 10% of the total number of pages in a book or journal, whichever number is greater.  
  • Not all publishers are covered by the CLA license, and in some cases we are only able to scan up to 5% of a text, under the CDPA (Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988). 
  • The Reading List Team will check copyright limits and get in touch with you if any issues are found.  

The University is subject to regular compliance checks from the CLA and must provide access to ELE modules so that the CLA can spot check the provision of scanned materials.  The University can be subject to financial and reputational penalty if licence terms are not adhered to. 

In exceptional circumstances it may be possible to scan an additional extract.  If this is crucial to your teaching, contact the reading list teams for advice.  This additional option is not covered by the licence but is possible for some titles on a pay as you go basis.  This can prove very costly as fees are charged on a per student basis and can be prohibitively expensive for some major publisher works. Get in touch if you wish the Reading List Team to obtain prices for you.  

Kortext is a new e-textbook provider the Library is trialling this academic year. It provides access to thousands of electronic textbooks. Click the logo to learn more about e-textbooks.

The E-textbook market

Providing access to e-textbooks can prove tricky as these are not provided with standard e-book licences. Publishers specially licence content to universities on a 6- or 12- month basis, with fees based on student numbers. It can cost several thousand pounds to licence a textbook this way for a few months.  

If your module is based around one key textbook which is not currently available electronically, and no other materials can be substituted, please get in touch as soon as possible so we can explore options with you, and assess whether the book meets the criteria for e-textbook purchase.  

Please note: 

  • Not all textbooks can be licensed this way.  Some textbooks will only be available in print format or as part of large packages that are beyond University budgets. 
  • Individual textbooks may be priced at a cost that makes them unviable.  For example, if one textbook cost several thousand pounds for 6-12 months access it would swallow up entire departmental book budgets, leaving no budget for other resources. 
  • Where it is not possible to license e-textbooks, you should consider whether short extracts of the books can be used.  
  • A chapter or 10% of print books can be scanned and made available under our HE CLA licence. 
  • You should also consider whether any alternative books or other digital materials will serve your teaching purposes. 

After many years of pursuing a Digital First collection policy, the Library has built up an extensive collection of E-books and E-journals.  

If you are looking for an alternative to a print resource, the Library Search service is a good place to start. You can refine your search to ‘Online’ only to check what e-resources are already available in your subject area.  

Example - Let's imagine you are lecturing on defences in Criminal law

  • Run a search for criminal law defence in Library Search

  • Restrict your search results to Available Online 

  • You can also choose the Resource Type options to focus in on online books or journal articles


The University subscribes to a vast collection of online databases. These range from bibliographic databases, which point to published literature, to primary sources, news, audio-visual, and much more.  

Your Liaison Librarian can provide advice on which resources are most useful for your module, as well as how to navigate the various relevant databases.  

Click here to browse the full list of databases.

To give you an idea of the kinds of sources that are available take a look at the following  which highlight some of our primary sources, news and audiovisual content.

An increasing amount of scholarly information is published open access, with government mandates internationally supporting this movement. Care should be taken to evaluate online content, but the amount of high quality peer-reviewed academic material freely available is growing year on year.

Open educational resources (OER) are also experiencing growth and can be used to support many teaching activities.

See below for a (non-exhaustive!) list of open access resources and open educational resources.

Books, Journal Articles & Data

Internet Archive A non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more.

ORE  University of Exeter research repository. An archive of research publications and data authored/produced by UoE staff

BASE Large search engine for academic web resources. Many (but not all) are free to access.

CORE Aggregated open access research outputs from repositories and journals worldwide

Digital Commons Network Free, full-text scholarly articles from hundreds of universities and colleges worldwide

DOAB  Database of academic books published Open Access.

OAPEN Open access platform for academic books, with strengths in humanities and social sciences

OpenAIRE Explore Search for publications, datasets, software and other research outputs 

OpenDOAR A quality-assured, global Directory of Open Access Repositories. 

Unpaywall Download the ‘Unpaywall’ button to Chrome or Firefox browsers to instantly find free, Open Access, versions of articles or book chapters.

OER Resources

Open educational resources (OER) are freely accessible and licensed text, media, and other digital assets that can be used for teaching and learning activities.

OER Commons Public digital library of open educational resources.

OpenLearn Free learning resources from the Open University

OpenCreate Open educational platform where individuals and organisations can publish their open content

OER Big List University of Pittsburgh's Big List of OER Resources 

EDUCAUSE OER list  Collection of all EDUCAUSE resources related to open educational resources (OER) in higher education.

The Technology Enhanced Learning Team have written an Accessibility Statement for ELE, please click here to view this document. They mention that PDFs and many Word documents are not fully accessible to screen reader software. Using our Reading List service means you will be less reliant on these file formats when providing your students with resources. 

We can work with individual students and staff to ensure that digital items on a reading list are available in a range of formats to ensure that the student can access the material. We also ensure all of our scans are compatible for OCR (Optical Character Recognition).

Click here to view our guide to accessible library use
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