Library:How to Research E-versions of Library Materials

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UBC Library is increasingly acquiring electronic versions of materials that used to be available only in a physical format like print books, audio cassettes/cds, videos and dvds. We now have a vast collection of e-books, e-journals, digitized government publications, e-data and gis files. We also subscribe to several online video and music databases which provide streaming access to their collections.

Sometimes it's not clear how to find and access these digital materials. Here are some tips that should make the research process quicker and easier.


Summon is the Library's new one-stop search interface - now the default search for users who navigate to the UBC library homepage.

  • If you don't like reading a lot of text on screen - see below for some videos on Summon.
Summon Search box

It allows you to search for print and e-books, journal articles, maps, data files, theses & dissertations, government documents, maps, music, film and more all from one search box. All the records from cIRcle, UBC's Institutional Repository, have also been loaded into Summon. With so much content in one place you should be able to find the majority of the UBC licensed/owned materials that you are looking for simply by typing your keywords into Summon.

Once you get a results list here are a few things to look for:

1. Notice that you can choose which material types you'd like to see - for example "e-book." You can find even more types by clicking "more options."

Content Type
More Content Types

2. Once you have found the material types you are interested in you have to look to see if they are available in an online format. Look for terms like "full-text," "online" or "web resource." This is key because the Library often has multiple versions of the same title. This is especially important with audio and video titles which might be available online or as cassettes, cds or dvds.

  • Note, most Canadian government documents published in recent years are available to read online as well as in print. You will find a link to the electronic version right in the Library catalogue record for each document.

Available Online
Web Resource

3. Finally, Summon is a terrific search tool but it does not contain the entire universe of research materials. It is set to show you the vast majority of materials that UBC Library owns and/or licenses - but an estimated 10 - 15% of Library resources are not compatible with Summon.

  • This means that you may have to conduct another search in another part of the Library website to be absolutely certain that an item isn't available online. This is also true if your Summon results list is overwhelmingly long. You may then want to leave Summon and try your keywords in a subject-specific database and/or the library catalogue instead.
  • To determine the best subject-specific databases for all the disciplines taught at UBC check out the Library's Research Guides.

If you are interested in moving beyond the materials that UBC Library owns/licenses then check the "Add results beyond your library's collection" option under Refine Your Search. If you locate an item held/owned by another library chances are our InterLibrary Loans department can get it in for you....but beware, the lending institutions' licenses will generally disallow you from copying or disseminating their materials to others.

Summon Videos


Books are very easy to find using Summon, but sometimes you may not want to wade through all the other types of content that Summon provides. If you know that you are not interested in seeing journal articles for example, it will be faster for you to search using the UBC Library Catalogue interface.

Click the UBC Library Catalogue link and type your keywords/title words into the search box.

Library Catalogue

Catalogue Search Box

Even though you won't find journal articles this way, you will still be able to find and access e-books from the catalogue. Look out for items that say "no item information, ONLINE." This is a bit confusing - it means that there is no physical item information, ie, no call number and no branch location. It's available online 24/7 to all current UBC students, faculty and staff members as well as patrons working at Library workstations.

Library Catalogue


If you are working with a complete citation, i.e., author, article title, journal/newspaper title, issue and number, then the most efficient way to find out whether we have online access is to start with a Journal search.

  • Summon, as noted above, is set to bring back results from multiple databases. If you type an article title in, you'll get the article you are interested in plus (potentially) hundreds of other results containing the same keywords you typed in. If you are in a hurry it can be tedious to scroll through many irrelevant results to find the specific article that you are after.
  • So, save yourself a lot of time and use your mouse to hover over the word "journal" in the Library website's top menu and click on "print and electronic journals"
Journal Search

Now type the title of the Journal or newspaper into the search box. (Don't type the article title in - this database only contains subscription and licensing information about the Journals and Newspapers, not their contents)

  • You should now see something like this:
Journal Subscription Information

The key things to look out for are:

  1. First check the date range for each option - make sure to click on the link that covers the date that you need.
  2. Next click on the "permitted use" button to verify that the license allows you to create a persistent/permanent link directly to articles and/or to include articles in e-reserves. Only provide access to articles by permitted means - violations of our licenses have serious consequences - including the loss of access to the resource for the entire University community.
  3. If your results indicate that "no full-text" was found, click the UBC print holdings option to see if our print subscription covers the date you need.

Note, our licenses generally do not permit us to digitize print articles and post these to the web. You will have to seek permission from the copyright holder prior to copying and distributing print articles. If the article is for a course being taught at UBC then you can either have UBC library create a course reserve for the article or have the UBC Bookstore create a custom course package.

Once you have determined the permitted uses of the journal in question you can use your citation information to access the journal.

  1. If the article is available online - click the link that covers the date you need. Usually this will take you to the Journal's own homepage. From here you should be able to click on the year, issue and number of the Journal that you need and then scroll through the results until you find your article.
  2. Click on the article title or look for a link that says "html full-text" or "Pdf full-text." Once you have the article open you will need to find the permanent URL/link to the article. In many cases the URL in the browser window will be session-based and if you link to it your students will not be able to access the article.
    1. For step-by-step instructions on identifying permanent URLs (PURLS) and how to enable them by means of E-Z proxy see the Library guide to Creating Persistent URLs.


You can use Summon to search for the title of musical pieces, films and plays as detailed in the section on Summon above. Limit your results by clicking "more options" in the Content Type menu. Here you will find options for audio and video recordings. Check your results to see if any are available "online" or as a "web resource."

Another place to search for streaming music, films or theatre productions is in one of the licensed databases that contain streamed content.

  • Theater in Video "contains more than 250 definitive performances of the world's leading plays, together with more than 100 film documentaries, online in streaming video - more than 500 hours in all. This first release contains over 50 titles, representing hundreds of leading playwrights, actors and directors. Included are landmark performances such as The Iceman Cometh, Hamlet, Othello, Awake and Sing, Long Day's Journey Into Night, Playboy of the Western World, and others. Notable actors include Gene Wilder, Laurence Olivier, Richard Dreyfuss, Walter Matthau, Meryl Streep, and more."
  • Another source of streamed films is the National Film Board of Canada. Not everything in its collection is free but you will find that a surprisingly large proportion of its collection is freely available (for personal use) from its website:

(excerpted from the UBC Library Research Guide for Music)

  • Oral History Online: This database contains "important oral histories available either on the Web or hidden away in archives, in English, all around the world, linking searchers to full text, audio, and video whenever available."
  • Naxos Music Library: provides access to 653,000+ classical music tracks (46,000+ CDs), emphasizing the complete Naxos and Marco Polo CD collections. Other labels representing jazz, world music, classic pop, rock music, and Chinese orchestral music are also included.
  • Classical Music Library is a collection of 60,000+ classical music tracks. Coverage includes music from the earliest times (e.g. Gregorian Chant) to the present. Repertoire ranges from vocal and choral music, to chamber, orchestral, solo instrumental, and opera.
  • D R A M is a database of music that is hard to find through the commercial marketplace.
  • Smithsonian Global Sound for Libraries is a virtual encyclopedia of musical and aural traditions. It includes published recordings owned by Smithsonian Folkways, archival collections from various legendary labels, as well as music recorded in Africa and South Asia.
  • CentreStreams is the audiostreaming database of the Canadian Music Centre where you can search for recordings by Canadian Composers.


You will find that there are vast catalogues of images freely available for viewing on the internet. If you check out the Library Research Guide for Web Resources in Art you will find a number of image-rich websites listed here.

UBC Library also licenses several art databases with large image collections including:

  • ArtStor: "ARTstor is a digital library of images, information about the images, and software tools designed to enhance teaching, learning, and scholarship. ARTstor contains over 1 million images in the areas of art, architecture, the humanities, and social sciences."
  • Grove Art Online is a digital version of the venerable Grove Dictionary of Art. Though this is a dictionary, with extensive text entries, Grove Art Online contains "over 6,000 searchable images of works of art, maps, and line drawings...of the most frequently studied works of art."

The library also licenses several history databases with extensive image collections including:

  • London Low-life is "a full-text searchable resource, containing colour digital images of rare books, ephemera, maps and other materials relating to 18th, 19th and early 20th century London." As indicated by the title, the main theme of this collection is "the street culture, social reform and Victorian underworld of London during the nineteenth century."
  • China: Trade, Politics & Culture 1793-1980: contains "substantial collections of unique manuscript materials....detailing China's interaction with the West from Macartney's first Embassy to China in 1793, through to the Nixon/Heath visits to China in 1972-74." Contains digitized manuscripts, diary entries, and "over 400 colour paintings, maps and drawings by English and Chinese artists, as well as countless photographs, sketches and ephemeral items, depicting Chinese people, places, customs and events, and provides a striking visual accompaniment to the documentary images."
  • Slavery, Abolition and Social Justice: contains "documents and collections covering an extensive time period 1490-2007" on the topic of "the varieties of slavery, the legacy of slavery, the social justice perspective and the continued existence of slavery today." Includes historical maps digitized in full colour and a substantial gallery of visual sources which includes "paintings, photographs, illustrations, prints, and lithographs."

More Help

For assistance with any aspect of finding and using UBC licensed materials in a UBC course you can contact Shawnna Parlongo, Distance Learning Support Librarian and/or the appropriate Subject Liaison Librarian for the topic you are interested in.