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UG CamGuides: How do I find books and articles from a reading list?

Break down a reading list into different types of resource and know how to recognise them from their reference.

Physical resources

Wolfson College LibraryYou may have your own copies of books or receive copies of chapters/articles from academic staff. However, many subjects require such diverse readings that you will need to borrow books from your college library, your faculty or departmental library, or the University Library. 

If you're not in Cambridge, and are studying at a distance, the university has an extensive range of online resources available to students. You can access these via iDiscover. If you have any questions contact your subject librarian or

Using faculty/departmental libraries

You can register to use most other faculty/departmental libraries in addition to your own. Many students are studying subjects that cross over into other disciplines and so find books on iDiscover that are in libraries across Cambridge. Email the library or check the opening hours and go along during staffed hours to ask about using and borrowing from there. For the contact details of libraries, see the Libraries Directory. Not all names of libraries are intuitive: the main library for historical collections is under 'S' for Seeley Historical Library not 'H'. Use the search box if you can't find what you are looking for.

Using college libraries

College libraries usually only lend to their own students but most will allow students from other colleges to make an appointment in advance to use a book in the library if it is difficult to find elsewhere. If you find yourself in this situation once you're in Cambridge, you could ask your own college librarian, or use the Libraries Directory to find the contact details for the library you wish to visit; email or telephone to ask if you can make an appointment.

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Locating a book on the shelves

You can browse the shelves of your library, trying to spot the book you are looking for. However, you will save time if you find the classmark (sometimes called shelfmark).

Click through the slides below to find out how to locate a book on the shelves based on the information that is included in the record on iDiscover.


Finding a book on the shelves - click on the arrow at the side to move through the slides

Search results in iDiscover

Search for the book in iDiscover 1/7

Search by keyword (words in the title or that the book/article is about, author name) or a specific title for the book that you require. When you click on the magnifying glass you will get a list of results that match these terms.

iDiscover item record

Book details 2/7

Select the title of the book you require. It will show you access options: either in print, online or both. Scroll down to see more colleges and departments.

Library details 3/7

The numbers and letters that you need to help you locate the book are next to the name of the library. In this case: 001.4(A2a). You will find that many libraries use slightly different lettering and numbering systems for keeping their books in a meaningful order. That means that you might need to write down several of these references (or classmarks) if you are going to look for the book in different libraries.

iDiscover - emailing a record

Emailing the book details 4/7

Make a note of this reference or you can email it to yourself from iDiscover. Just click on the envelope icon and type in your email address. That way you will have all the details you need to find the book when you get to the shelves.

screen shot of idiscover showing book availability

Is it available? 5/7

It is likely that there will be multiple copies of the book you want across Cambridge Libraries. The book you are looking for may be on the shelf in one of these libraries or it may be on loan to another student.

To find out whether the book you want is available (ie. you can physically take the book off the shelf), click on the name of the library. This will bring up another screen with specific information about the individual copy of the book. Under the 'Status' you can see if is available or on loan. In this case it is 'in place', which means it is on the shelf.

You may also see the following: 'May be available'. This means that the Library in question holds a copy but iDiscover doesn't know if it's on loan or not. In this case, you will need to go to the library or contact library staff to find out.

end of shelf classification information

Find the correct set of shelves 6/7

If the book you are looking for is in a library you've not used before, you can find out more about that library using the Libraries Directory. Remember to check whether you may visit the library, especially if it is a college library, and confirm the opening hours before you head off to look for a book.

You then need to locate the book inside the building. In this case, the first part of the number relates to the shelf on which the book is kept. Books on similar themes are usually grouped together.

However, the book may not be on the open shelves and may need to be fetched for you. Check the record for specifics relating to the location.

books on the shelf

Finding the specific book 7/7

The second part of the number relates to the order in which the book is on the shelf. Sometime they are alphabetical but in this case it is a running sequence: our book - 001.4(A2a) - is the second title (2) in group 'A'.

There may be multiple copies of a book which may add additional details to the list of numbers and letters. In this case, the lowercase 'a' relates to the second copy (b would be the third and so on).

Always ask if you are unsure where to find a book; library staff are more than happy to help!

What if you can't find a book

If you can't see the book on the shelves, this may be because it has been borrowed by someone else. Many libraries let you request a book, which gives the borrower a short period of time to return it. Often it is kept to one side for you for a few days so that no one else can borrow it.

It may also be because the library doesn't have a copy. In this case speak to the librarian; they may be able to advise you on other libraries that do have a copy or even buy a copy of the book for your own library.

Online resources

Most ebooks are available anywhere in the world, with your CRSid username and password (which you'll get shortly before arriving). Search for the title in iDiscover, and link to the ebook that way, rather than searching the internet.

It is worth noting that some ebooks can only be accessed from certain computers in specific libraries. These are books that have been given to the University Library because it is a copyright library and holds a copy of every book published in the UK. These come with certain restrictions, such as where they can be accessed. Check the record carefully to find out availability. Help and more information is available on the ebooks LibGuide. 

Most journal articles are available online and the the majority of these are listed by article title in iDiscover. If you can't find the article by title, then search for the journal title instead. Academic staff may also upload journal article to Moodle, the University's Virtual Learning Environment.