University students: 5 free sites to find ebooks and journals

Studying at varsity is both labour-intensive and a costly effort. Apart from the money you will be paying on fees, accommodation, living expenses and just about everything else in this new stage of your life, there are also smaller costs that can add up.

Like the dreaded access costs for journal articles and ebooks, some of which can be in the hundreds of dollars.

And let’s face it, the last thing you need while desperately looking for sources in your upcoming essay is a paywall blocking you. This is usually the point of most frustration, especially if you’re doing research online and it always so happens to be the perfect article that is blocked.

Luckily for university students, there are a whole host of websites where one can go and try your luck for free sources, from ebooks to entire journals.

One of the most famous (or infamous depending on who you ask) was Z-Library, but this site suddenly disappeared this last weekend from 4th November. Z-Library was regarded as a “shadow library,” a website where pirated ebooks and journals were shared online illegally.

Many countries around the world like India and France sought to block Z-Library and similar through ISPs, but there are still extant shadow libraries on the internet.

But if you’re looking for less shady means to get free academic info or ebooks, then you’ll want to try one of the five sites listed below:

Google Scholar

The first of the bunch is probably the most well-known and most hit-and-miss. Google Scholar works like the regular Google search engine and returns with scholarly articles and sources.

Most of these will be locked behind paywalls or subscriptions but if you’re lucky you will be able to find some free PDFs here clearly marked with the “[PDF]” suffix.

It is usually best to start here with your journey to find free academic material and when you feel you’ve exhausted returns on Google Scholar, you should move on to the next option.

Remember, looking for sources on free sites is all about trying your luck on different platforms. If you don’t have the time or patience, it’s best you pay up.

Project Gutenberg

Now we’re getting into the nitty gritty. All of the material on Project Gutenberg is free for consuming online.

This site specialises in ebooks and it offers quite a collection. English literature majors and the like will be able to eat their hearts out here. Unlike other free sites, Gutenberg arranges ebooks into “bookshelves” for easy discovery.

For example, check out this bookshelf filled with Greek Classics, including Homer’s The Iliad. For those in the social sciences, check out this collection on “Racism.” There’s a collection on several topics from slavery to technology but the limitation is that many of the ebooks are older or more “classical.”

After looking through Project Gutenberg, you should try your luck on the next site.

Open Library

Open Library works on a different method than other free sites. Once signed up for a free account, you can browse its impressive catalogue of novels and other materials and either “read” a book, usually an older classic online.

Or you can “borrow” a book. Borrowing will make an ebook available to you on your browser for a limited time, like an hour or two.

This site has a Student Library available for learners from preschool to Grade 12 filled with age-appropriate novels. Open Library’s time-restricted reading may be a problem for some people, and another issue may be its limited scope of content which lacks academic materials in favour of more popular works.

Its search engine could produce the result you’re looking for, if not then you should move on.


OverDrive is similar to Open Library in that you can borrow books for a limited time, but unlike Open Library it has options to listen to audiobooks as well.

The other major difference is that OverDrive works as a virtual public library where you can access the books collected in your local library through its apps.

All you will need to download the free apps on iOS and Android devices and you gain access to its catalogue of popular novels. Younger students can download its Sora app for mobile reading and everyone else can check out its Libby app.

Once downloaded, the app will direct you to find the closest library to you and will ask for a virtual library card. If you don’t have a library card (like most people) you will have to visit the respective library and get one, then link it to your Libby app. Then you can browse your local library’s titles right from your smart device.

PDF Drive

If you don’t have the time to go and get a library card then you’re probably going to want to check out PDF Drive as your last legal recourse.

This site collects all the PDFs of books, saying “PDF Drive is your search engine for PDF files. As of today, we have 80 736 958 eBooks for you to download for free. No annoying ads, no download limits.”

It is easy to use: simply type in what you’re looking for in the search bar and follow the download prompts.

The ebooks on this site are only growing in number and you can find some serious academic materials here like the collected works of Carl Jung for the psychology majors out there.

Dishonourable mentions

Over the years countless illegal sources for scholarly documents have popped up that we won’t link to but will mention for the sake of completeness.

There are plenty of websites with servers based in Sweden and Liechtenstein, for example, that compile free scholarly works and journal articles in PDF (illegally).

Pirate sites are filled with dangers like viruses as not all files uploaded can be checked and cleared, and this is on top of the blatant law breaking associated with sharing such files.

[Image – CC 0 Perfecto Capucine on Pexels]


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