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Accessing Resources

Cambridge libraries: accessibility & disability

A guide to library accessibility services for students

What are alternate formats?

Some people find it difficult or impossible to use some books, journals or other publications in the format in which they are provided by the libraries:

You might need alternate formats of books, articles etc. to work with. The information on this page explains how the Libraries Accessibility Service can help you with this.

Alternate Formats Service

What is the Alternate Formats Service?

If you have a Student Support Document (SSD) from the Accessibility & Disability Resource Centre which recommends access to alternate library formats, the Libraries Accessibility Service can usually obtain or create accessible digital formats of publications held in the libraries for your own personal use (digitising older or fragile material is subject to conservation approval).

We are usually able to obtain or produce PDF and Word files, and may also be able to obtain epub and DAISY formats, depending on the source. In some circumstances we can provide audio formats, although in most cases these will be automatically generated from text and use a synthetic voice. If you require other formats, please contact us to discuss this.

Do I qualify for the Alternate Formats Service?

The Equality Act 2010 and the Copyright and Related Rights (Marrakesh Treaty etc) (Amendment) Regulations 2018 are the two pieces of legislation which require and allow us to obtain/make accessible copies of copyrighted works for students whose disability prevents them from using those works in the format provided by the libraries to the same extent as students without a disability.

If the libraries provide a copy of a work, and you think that you would benefit from an alternate format due to a disability, please contact the Accessibility & Disability Resource Centre for a referral to this service.

If you do not qualify for copyright-exempt copying, please make sure that you observe the usual copyright and licensing restrictions when printing, photocopying, downloading or scanning library resources.

How do I request alternate formats?

Please email the Libraries Accessibility Service to request alternate formats of titles held in Cambridge libraries. Try to give full details, including any specific editions required (a permalink to the iDiscover record is really helpful and saves typing). Some publishers may take several weeks to respond to requests, so please try to request titles as soon as you know that you need them or tell us if something is urgent.

The first time you contact us we will ask you to agree to some terms of use. For further information, see our Service Level Agreement.

Can I share files provided for my use with other people?

Any files that we obtain or create for you are strictly for your own use. Please do not share them in any way.


Alternate Formats Service (AFS) Service Level Agreement

RNIB Bookshare

RNIB Bookshare is a UK-hosted online resource offered by the Royal National Institute for Blind People (RNIB), which provides a UK education collection for print-disabled learners including those with visual impairments, learning disabilities, or physical disabilities which significantly affect the use of printed materials.  

Textbooks, academic monographs, and other materials are available via Bookshare, and there are currently over 800,000 titles to choose from. A range of accessible formats are offered via the website, these can be read electronically or adapted to suit the personal reading needs of learners.

Cambridge University has signed up to RNIB Bookshare. Print-disabled students who are registered with the Accessibility & Disability Resource Centre can contact the Libraries Accessibility Service to be registered for a personal Bookshare account allowing you to search for and access/download files independently. Alternatively, we are happy to download files on your behalf.

Hathi Trust Accessible Text Request Service

Cambridge University Libraries have registered for the Hathi Trust Accessible Text Request Service. This allows us to request copies of any title in the Hathi Trust Digital Library collection as alternate formats for print disabled students, provided we own a copy of the title in a library in the Cambridge library network. This includes copyrighted works. We can usually obtain pdf and txt formats.

This is a mediated service for students who are eligible for our Alternate Formats Service. Please contact the Libraries Accessibility Service to request material.

Scan & Deliver

All students (you don't need to be registered with the Accessibility & Disability Resource Centre) can request via Scan & Deliver a PDF of:

  • up to one chapter (or 5%) of a book or one article per issue of a journal from collections held by Cambridge University Libraries, subject to relevant conservation approval and copyright permissions

The team always performs optical character recognition (OCR) on the PDFs so that they can be read with text-to-speech software.

We can use the copyright exception for disabled people to scan entire books for print-disabled students registered with the ADRC. Please send requests for scans that fall outside the usual copyright limits to the Libraries Accessibility Service.

Convert formats using SensusAccess

SensusAccess is a free, self-service facility designed to allow disabled students and staff (or those supporting them) at the University of Cambridge to create alternative formats of digital documents. Using SensusAccess you can convert PDFs, JPEGs and other files into an e-book, text file, Word file, audio or braille. Further information and e-training is available. There is no need to register for this service.

Audio formats

For print-disabled students who need audio formats we are mostly limited to providing accessible text-based documents that can be read with a screen reader, or generating mp3 files for you using automated conversion tools.

If you would like to try getting your computer to read books out to you, there are a number of free screen reading tools available to try which should work with Digital Rights Management (DRM)-free electronic resources. This includes most journal articles and a growing number of ebooks. (For an explanation of DRM and DRM-free, see the ebooks LibGuide). Additionally, VLeBooks (link opens in new tab) has an inbuilt screen reading option in Read Online mode. See the Assistive technology and Eresource platforms sections of this LibGuide for further information.

We also have access to some audiobook versions of Business, Science and Technology titles via O’Reilly for Higher Education:

Charities providing an audiobook service to print-disabled people

The following charities provide audiobooks to print-disabled people. They mostly offer popular fiction and non-fiction, but they may be able to accept requests for new titles. Please note that we cannot register you for this service - you need to sign up directly with each charity:

There is a small membership fee, but you can apply for free membership if you would find the fee a barrier to joining the service. Membership for UK residents only.

Free membership. For UK residents and those living in the EU or any of the countries where the Marrakesh Treaty has come into force.

Free audiobooks for anyone

Public library audiobook services

Membership of a public library service in the UK usually includes free access to an online audiobook service. Anyone who is studying in Cambridgeshire may join Cambridgeshire Libraries and gain access to BorrowBox eAudio, Ulverscroft eAudio and OverDrive (link opens in a new tab).

Audiobook versions of public domain books

Recorded by volunteers. Books are in the public domain in the USA. Non-US users should verify the local copyright status.

Citing alternate formats

If you use alternate formats to books and other materials, you may not be able to exactly follow the referencing guidelines required by your department or module. For example, some formats – e.g. Word, epub – don’t have fixed pagination which matches the original publication. Audio books lack page numbers altogether.

You should check with your department or tutor and agree on a form of referencing that works for both of you. There are established alternatives to citing page numbers (for example, citing the paragraph or section number) within the main referencing schemes which you could consider.

General guidance on citing ebooks without fixed pagination is available from the ebooks LibGuide. You can also find referencing advice by department on our Reference Management LibGuide.

Copyright information

Other than when the disability copyright exemption allows full books to be copied for individual use, under copyright law only a limited amount of a book or other type of publication can be copied. Copying includes photocopying or scanning physical resources and printing, downloading or copy/pasting electronic resources.

You can copy part of a book/journal under the fair dealing exception for private study and non-commercial research. You can make a single copy to the following limits:

  • one chapter of a book OR
  • up to a max of 5% of the whole of the book OR
  • one article of a journal issue OR
  • one article from an issue of a newspaper OR
  • one paper of one set of conference proceedings OR
  • one report of one case from a book of law reports

For more information on fair dealing exceptions in the UK please see the relevant pages of the Intellectual Property Office.

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