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for Undergraduates

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.

Start with iDiscover to find what you need to read...

iDiscover logoYou may be used to browsing the shelves of a school or college library to find the books that you need for your studies. However, at Cambridge University you will probably need to use iDiscoverour online search catalogue.

This is the combined catalogues of most of the libraries in the university. It contains the details of most of the books, articles, newspapers, reports, films and more, that you will need for your studies. You will also use iDiscover to find out which library a book is in, which shelf it is on, or whether there is an electronic copy available that will save you having to come in to the library. These results are displayed side-by-side so you can see very easily if there is a print and/or electronic version available. It is also the place to check which books you have borrowed and request books that are currently on loan to someone else.

Where else can you search?

We recommend that you start with iDiscover when you are looking for something to read for your studies, rather than a search engine. The material we stock in our libraries and give you access to online has an element of quality control; it has been recommended by academics or selected by a process of rigorous evaluation by publishers. Much of it has been paid for so that members of the University can look at it; it isn't freely available. 

If you cannot find what you need on iDiscover, Google Scholar is useful for finding open access or University-subscribed articles, but it includes results which you do not have access to. Our ebooks and ejournals teams work very hard to provide as much content as possible online. They welcome suggestions, which are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. 

Google should be used for exploring information at a surface level, or you will spend a lot of time scrolling through 1000s of results trying to decide which are high quality and most relevant to your studies.

Find out more about how to make a decision about the validity of books, articles and web pages under Critical Reading.

A useful tip for finding information online is to add site: to your search e.g. student life or headache

Laura Moss, Faculty Librarian, University of Cambridge


With thanks to:

Zadie (Classics)

Vamsi (Economics)

Sitara (Classics)

Virginia (Classics)

Searching iDiscover

It is likely that you when you first use iDiscover, you will be looking for a book or journal article that your lecturer or supervisor has suggested. They will provide you with some of the bibliographic details (author/title etc.) probably on a reading list or in lecture notes. 

Simple Search

When you connect to iDiscover you will see a search box on the homepage.

This is similar to a search engine; the more information you include, the more relevant your results will be.

If you just put in the author's surname, you'll see everything they (and anyone who shares their surname) have published and is held in our libraries.

If you just enter words from the title, iDiscover will treat them as keywords and look for them anywhere is the catalogue record (which may not be in the title at all).

Combine all the terms and you are more likely to find what you are looking for. There is also the option to specify which library you want to find it in or if you want an ebook.

Advanced Search

This will help you find the item you are looking for first time. It allows you to specify the author, the title, year of publication and other information. By entering this into specific search boxes, rather than in one long search string, it means that you are likely to spend less time scrolling through irrelevant results.

lightbulb iconSearching iDiscover

Watch this video for a demonstration of the simple and advanced search options on iDiscover. You will see that while advanced searching takes a bit more time to enter the book or article details, you are more likely to find the item that you are after straight away.
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Now try searching for a book

You can search for something relevant to your course or try one of the readings in the list below. If you are unsure how to interpret any of these references have a look at the Understanding References page.

  • Brooke, C.N.L. (1988). A history of the University of Cambridge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Bullen, A. (2004). Cambridge - more than a guide. Norwich: Jarrold.
  • Johnson, R.B. (1909). The Cambridge colleges. London: T. Werner Laurie.
  1. Go to iDiscover
  2. Enter some keywords into the search box
  3. Click search

Have you found the book you were looking for straight away?

  1. Now retry the search by using 'Advanced Search'. Change the drop down menus to title and author searches and add the correct words.

Did you notice the difference in the number of results you retrieved?

There are lots of step-by-step instructions showing you how to search on the iDiscover LibGuide.


Keyword searching

a-z database listingAs you progress through your studies, some disciplines require students to independently select items for reading, without recommendations from a reading list or supervisor.

When you do not have a specific title to search for, it can be daunting to know where to start looking for resources.

  • Library staff in your college, department and/or faculty will be able to help you analyse your question and build up a strategy for looking for information by keyword, rather than title.
  • Keywords are words, or synonyms of words, that appear in your question. By effectively combining them you can narrow your search down to find relevant material. 
  • Librarians can introduce you to advanced search techniques and a range of databases that are full of academic resources not available elsewhere on the internet.

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