University students: 5 free sites to find ebooks and journals

Studying at university is both labor intensive and expensive. Besides the money you will pay for 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 costs of accessing journal articles and e-books, some of which can run into the hundreds of dollars.

And let’s face it, the last thing you need when you’re desperately looking for sources in your next try is a paywall blocking you. This is usually the most frustrating point, especially if you search online and it’s always the perfect item that gets stuck.

Luckily for college students, there are tons of websites where you can go and try your luck for free sources, from e-books 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 of November 4th. Z-Library was considered a “shadow library”, a website where pirated e-books and journals were illegally shared online.

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

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

Google Scholar

The first of the group is probably the best known and the most hazardous. Google Scholar works like the classic Google search engine and comes back with scholarly articles and sources.

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

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

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

Project Gutenberg

Now we get to the heart of the matter. All material on Project Gutenberg is free to consume online.

This site specializes in ebooks and offers a whole collection. English literature majors and the like will be able to eat their hearts out here. Unlike other free sites, Gutenberg organizes eBooks into “shelves” for easy discovery.

For example, see this library filled with Greek classics, including Homer’s Iliad. For those in the social sciences, check out this collection on “racism”. There is a collection on several topics from slavery to technology but the limitation is that many e-books are older or more “classic”.

After going through Project Gutenberg, you should try your luck on the following site.

Open library

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

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

This site has a Student library available for learners from kindergarten to 12th grade filled with age-appropriate novels. The Open Library’s time-limited reading can be a problem for some people, and another problem can be its limited scope of content that lacks academic material in favor of more popular works.

His search engine might produce the result you are looking for, otherwise 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 also has options for listening to audiobooks.

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

All you’ll need to download the free apps on iOS and Android devices and you’ll have access to its catalog of popular novels. Younger students can download his sora app for mobile reading and everyone can check their Libby application.

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

PDF reader

If you don’t have time to fetch a library card, you’ll probably want to check out PDF Drive as a legal last resort.

This site collects all book PDFs, saying “PDF Drive is your search engine for PDF files. To date, we have 80,736,958 eBooks for free download. No annoying ads, no download limits.

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

The e-books on this site are only growing in number and you can find serious academic papers here like the Complete Works of Carl Jung for psychology majors out there.

Dishonorable Mentions

Over the years, countless illegal sources of scholarly material have appeared, to which we will not link, but will mention for completeness.

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

Pirate sites are fraught with dangers such as viruses, as not all uploaded files can be checked and deleted, and this is in addition to the flagrant violation of law associated with sharing these files.

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