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Reading List Guide: Choosing material for your reading lists

A quick introduction to the reading list service from the Library

For core readings, ebooks and ejournals 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 check for electronic versions of items on your reading list, and will purchase and link these to your lists.

If you currently use print library materials in your teaching and these are not available digitally, consider whether a scanned extract or an alternative online materials can be used.  For example, the Reading List Team can scan a key chapter from a chosen book.

A variety of different ebook and journal licences are available.  The Reading List Team checks for licences when purchasing reading list items and will choose the most appropriate licence.

DRM free, unlimited user access ebooks and journals are the favoured model.  However, you should be aware that some ebook licences come with user or usage limits - so sometimes students will have to wait for another user to finish using an ebook before they can gain access.   Multiple single user ebook licences can be purchased to improve access to materials.

Library staff monitor turnaway statistics from ebook and journal providers.  If we can see that student demand for e-access exceeds current licences it may be possible to buy or increase usage licences.



Providing access to e-textbooks can be particularly tricky as these are not provided with standard ebook licences.  Publishers will specially license content to Universities on a 6 month or 12 month basis, on the payment of a fee based on student numbers.  It can cost several thousand pounds to licence a book this way for a few months.

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

Note especially that ...

  • 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 costs several thousand pounds for 6/12 month 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.

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.

If one of your intended course readings is only available in print, it may be possible to scan an extract and make that available via your reading list.

The University holds a copyright licence from the CLA (Copyright Licensing Agency) which allows for extracts from printed materials to be scanned and made available to students.  This covers up to one journal article from an issue, one book chapter or 10% of the total, whichever is greater.

Consider if an extract would suffice for your teaching.   If so, the reading list team can scan and attach that to your reading list.

Things to note

  • Not all publishers permit their works to be scanned.  If you make a request, the Reading List Team will check.

  • There are stringent checks and reporting requirements involved on this licence - but the Reading List can take care of all that for you.  The University is subject to regular compliance checks from the CLA and has to 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. 


The Library has pursued a digital first collection policy for many years, and this has built up an extensive online collection of ebooks and e-journals. 

If your chosen material is only available in print, or cannot be licensed electronically, consider whether you can substitute a digital resource.

The Library Search service enables you to restrict your searching to online content only and this is a great way to take a look at which digital resources are available in particular areas

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

  • Run a search for criminal law defence in Library Search

  • Look at the results on the Articles + more tab

  • Restrict your search results to Online availability

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

criminal law defence search


As well as ebooks and journals, the University has a vast collection of online databases.  Some of these are bibliographic databases, pointing to the published literature  but there are lots of other sorts of databases that could be used for teaching materials in place of print content.

For example, there are lots of primary sources, news, official publications, audiovisual materials and much more that could be used to support module activities.

You can quickly browse the databases from the list below

Get in touch with your Liaison Librarian if you'd like advice on which resources might be most useful for your module.

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.

A vast amount of information is freely available online.  Care should be taken to evaluate  online content, but open access publishing has been growing in strength over a number of years and you will be able to find high quality peer reviewed academic materials online.

OER collections have also been growing over time and could be used to substitute for some teaching activities.

Here are some great examples that you might like to draw on.  If you know of a great open access source you would like to publicise to the University community, just let us know.

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.


Need advice on library resources?


Your Liaison Librarians are available for help and support. 

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