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Electronic resources: eBooks

Online information about University Library and Collection's electronic resources.


eBooks are texts presented in a digital format which enables them to be read on a computer or handheld device.  

To support learning and research, Durham University provides access to tens of thousands of eBooks covering a wide range of subjects. The library purchases eBooks wherever possible and there are significant advantages to providing texts in this format. For example:  

  • eBooks can be accessed from either on or off campus (provided you have a reasonable internet connection).
  • You can search the contents of an ebook to find the sections most relevant to you. 
  • You can download chapters to read any time, anywhere.   
  • Chapters can be printed and relevant sections annotated and highlighted. (see Printing, Copying and Downloading tab for further details)
  • Many eBooks have enhanced features that support accessibility requirements. (see Accessibility tab for further details). 
  • Many (though not all) eBooks can be read by multiple users at the same time. 

Unfortunately, we cannot provide unlimited access to every eBook in our catalogue. Our eBooks may be:​​​​​

  • Single user
    These can be Downloadable (the book is out of action while being consulted) or Non-Downloadable (can only be read online). 
  • Multi-user
    e.g. 2, 3, 5 concurrent users.
  • Unlimited access
    Content on publisher platforms tend to be unlimited access. e.g. Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press.

Evidence Based Acquisition Schemes

As well as outright purchases, University Library and Collections provides access to thousands of eBooks via Evidence Based Acquisition schemes. Evidence Based Acquisition is where a subscriber pays an upfront fee to access a large collection of eBooks for an agreed period of time. The access fee is far lower than the value of the collection. At the end of the access period, subscribers are provided with usage data to help them select a set of titles, equivalent in value to the access fee, that will remain as part of the library’s collection in perpetuity. Durham Currently subscribes to the following EBA schemes:  

  • Cambridge Core - Provides access to 40,000+ eBooks. New titles are added every month. 
  • De Gruyter - Provides access to over 89,000+ eBooks.  New titles are added every month. 
  • Sage Knowledge - Provides access to 5000+ eBooks. Updated annually.  

Digital Rights Management

Many of our eBooks, such as those accessed via our main vendor platforms are controlled by Digital Rights Management technology. Digital Rights Management determines how eBook content can be used. It controls how many users can gain access to an eBook at any one time and also prevents or restricts the printing and downloading of eBook content. Please refer to the Printing, Copying and Downloading section for further details. 

Texts that are available in digital format can often be adjusted to meet a wide variety of accessibility needs. This can remove a number of barriers to reading for certain categories of user such as those who are blind, visually impaired or dyslexic. 

Key features include being able to: 

  • enlarge font size and magnify the print for easier reading.
  • alter screen colour and contrast for the visually impaired and adjust brightness for lighter/darker learning environments.
  • use Text-to-Speech software to enable print to be read aloud by simulated voice technology. 
  • apply alternative text features to obtain a brief description of the information given in images and tables.

Accessibility Statements

Platform providers are expected to publish information describing the accessibility of their platforms to users with disabilities via a platform accessibility statement. 

The following are links to the accessibility statements of some of our main ebook platforms: 

Copyright applies to e-books too!  

Printing and Copying

Just like physical books, ebooks are protected by copyright law. For those ebooks controlled by Digital Rights Management software, printing restrictions are enforced automatically. The amount you can print varies between publishers and titles but most ebooks will display the specific print and copy allowance for the title that you are using.

Ebook Central  & EBSCOhost -  The exact number of pages that can be printed is unique to each e-book. For each individual title, a message will appear telling you how many pages you are able to print.

VLebooks The proportion of the text you are able to print is given as a percentage and this can vary between titles. For the majority of ebooks, the limit is 10 per cent but there are titles where the figure is ash high as 40 per cent. 

We also provide access to a large number of DRM-free ebooks. For eBooks that are DRM free, users wanting to print or copy should remember to comply with copyright law. You may legally print or copy 10 per cent or one chapter of a DRM-free book, whichever is greater.


Ebooks can be read online but many can also be downloaded onto your own device for offline reading. To ensure a fair chance of access, most ebooks can be downloaded for a maximum of 24 hours to ensure they are not out of circulation for too long. Once the download period has expired (which is controlled automatically by Digital Rights Management) you are no longer be able to access the title and you will need to download it again if you want to continue using it offline. There is no limit to the number of times you can do this.

If an ebook is on loan to another user, some providers have a waiting list facility and you will be notified when the ebook becomes available. For other providers you would simply have to try again later.  

Considerate use of ebooks

Due to factors such as cost or availability, access to some ebooks is capped at a specific number of simultaneous users, e.g. three. At times of high demand, this can can lead to waiting lists and downloading for offline reading can create a bottleneck in the queue as there is no facility to 'return' an ebook before the end of your download period.

In order to facilitate access for all, please be considerate when using ebooks that are restricted in this way. For example:

  • If you only need to use the ebook for a short period consider reading it online rather than downloading.
  • Make sure you close your browser when you have finished reading online.  
  • If you only need to read a specific section of the book there is sometimes the option to permanently download a chapter or section to pdf. Downloading in this way does not block other users from accessing the ebook. 
  • If offered a choice of time period for the download, please download for the minimum amount of time possible.  

Both Ebook Central and VLebooks require Adobe Digital Editions to download subscribed content. This ebook reader software program can be downloaded free of charge from the following website and is also available via the AppStore and Google play.

Tip: If you are prompted to 'Authorize your computer', leave the ebook vendor as 'Adobe ID' and tick the box which says 'I want to authorize my computer without an ID'. Creating an ID is only necessary if you want to transfer downloads across multiple machines.

What does it mean when it says 'all available copies currently in use'?

Access to some ebooks is restricted to a limited number of simultaneous users. If you see this message, that limit has been reached. You will need to wait until one of the users finishes with the ebook before you can access it. 

Some platforms send us turnaway reports when a users fails to access a title for this reason. This information helps inform our purchasing decisions.  

What is the difference between 'Read Online' and 'Download'?

When you select Read Online you open the ebook in your web browser. Reading online does not require additional software on your computer but you do need to be connected to the internet in order to read the book. 

When you Download an e-book you are downloading it to a personal computer or mobile device and it can then be read offline. Additional software such as Adobe Digital Editions is often required to download ebooks. 

What is the difference between ebooks in EPUB and PDF format?

An EPUB is a web-based version of a text and has become the universal standard for ebooks. It is a file format that is compatible across a wide range of e-readers and reading apps and is the recommend format for download. Content is reflowable. It automatically resizes to fit your screen and enables the user to control the size of the text and make use of features such as highlighting and bookmarking. However, ePub versions of texts often do not include page numbers.

PDFs are usually an exact copy of the print version of the text and retain the same layout, font, graphics and  page numbering as the original print version. This is the best option if you need the page numbers for referencing purposes. However, PDFs are not re-flowable, so their text size cannot be adjusted for display on various devices.


Can I renew an ebook?

No. If you need an ebook for longer than the download period, you will need to download it again once your initial entitlement has expired.  


A padlock next to an ebook usually means that we have not purchased that particular ebook on that particular platform. However, it is worth searching for the title on Discover as we may provide access via a different platform. 

If we do not have access to the ebook through any platform, you might want to make a request.  


Why does the library have the title I need in print but not as an ebook?


There could be a number of reasons for this. For example:

  • Some titles simply don't exist as ebooks.
  • Some publishers provide ebooks for purchase by individuals but do not enable libraries to purchase copies for their institution.  This is the decision of the publisher. 
  • Sometimes ebooks are available to buy but are so expensive compared to print copies that the purchase cannot be justified. 

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