Library session: computing programmes

What is an academic library for?

Most likely, you will come across the library when looking for:

  • textbooks (i.e. using library catalogue to find textbooks);

  • specialist learning and research resources (i.e. using databases, USearch and Google Scholar);

  • study space and facilities (book your visit in advance); and

  • help from librarians (contact)

You can use two libraries: Ulster University and QA Higher Education.

  • ACTIVITY: use the Contact page to find the email address to contact librarians.

Where to start?

A subject guide explains the resources provided by the university library, as well as how to research various topics on your programme. Use the blue tabs at the top of the screen to navigate the guide.

  • ACTIVITY: on the tab Library class videos, slides and quizzes 20/21, identify the tool for creating and managing references and bibliographies.

Reading lists will guide you to the textbooks and articles your lecturers suggest you read to succeed. Each module has its own reading list. It is normally integrated with the Blackboard module page (see the menu in the Blackboard module pages). Alternatively, search in the reading lists for the module code and select the correct CRN number (you will find this information in each module handbook).

The QAHE library portal page will show you the resources and services available from both Ulster University and QA Higher Education.

Library home page

When looking for Ulster University resources, the library home page is the best place to start from. Here is what some of the links there mean:

  • USearch is a tool you can use to search across many university databases at the same time. It is similar to Google Scholar, but it can also search for trade (i.e. professional) publications.

  • Databases lists all electronic resources you can access. Not all databases are equally relevant to you. The most relevant ones are explained here.

  • Electronic Journals lists all the periodicals the university subscribes to. Use the Electronic Journals if you know which publication you need, or you want to see what journals are published on a certain subject. Do not use this if you want to search for a topic covered in journals (use USearch instead).

  • Library catalogue is helpful for finding ebooks. Search for a word in the book title or for the author's name, then use the Ebooks filter in the menu to narrow your results down to ebooks.

  • My Library Account: do not use this.

  • Reading Lists and Subject Guides: see Where to Start?

  • Library Help Service is useful for enquiries about the resources in the Databases list. If you are interested in the campus library services in Birmingham or London, go to the QAHE library portal.

Your login (OpenAthens)

To access your library electronic resources, you will almost always be asked to use OpenAthens login method:

  1. First, select your organisation: type "Ulster".

  2. Then use the Ulster University link to access the next page.

  3. There, use your Ulster email address for the username and the same password as for Blackboard.

Read a guide or Watch a video guide

  • ACTIVITY: On the library home page, go to the USearch. Test your OpenAthens login to access the USearch and university databases. Does it work as expected?


Textbooks are a particular kind of books. They are written in order to explain various broad areas of knowledge, e.g. research methods or Java programming language.

You are likely to come across two types of textbooks:

  1. Textbooks discussing a subject (e.g. Internet of Things, cybersecurity etc). Such textbooks discuss the main ideas in a balanced manner. It is helpful to use a good textbooks when studying a new subject (module). Read more about textbooks.

  2. Instruction textbooks (e.g. Java, web programming languages etc). Training videos can be a good alternative to such textbooks if you prefer watching to reading.

Finding textbooks

Use the library catalogues (Ulster University and QAHE) to find textbooks.

Catalogues do not search inside books, so try to predict what helpful books may be called. For example, a topic of cost-benefit analysis is likely to be discussed in books about information systems or systems development . Search for "information systems" or "systems development". Then search these books for the section discussing cost-benefit analysis. Read more about finding and accessing ebooks from Ulster University and QAHE.

  • ACTIVITY: Use the Ulster University library catalogue to find Liang (2019) Introduction to Java programming, 11th ed. in ebook format and access it.

Part of the library collection is O'Reilly Learning - a particularly good source of instruction textbooks and video tutorials.

  • ACTIVITY: From the Ulster University library homepage, go to Databases, browse to "O" in the alphabetical list; then find O'Reilly Learning and open the resource. Search for Python and limit your results to video. How many results do you get?

Google Books can be helpful if you do not know what books cover your topic of interest. Google Books searches inside many printed and electronic books; however, it is not usually allowed to show their full texts. Browsing some pages may be enough for your research. It may also give you an idea of what books to search for in the university library catalogue.

Academic research

Academic research is interested in bigger-picture theories that could be applied out across a range of situations.

Normally, a researcher uses experiments, observations, surveys and other established methods to develop solutions, form conclusions and propose new theories, etc. Before publication, the results of this research are reviewed by other specialists in the same field of knowledge. This peer-review process adds credibility to the research.

Knowledge is constantly developing, therefore some research conclusions accepted as correct earlier may be regarded as wrong at a later date, after more rigorous research has been done. Or society and technology etc. may change, and what was true years ago will no longer be correct.

Scholarly (academic, peer-reviewed) publications

Examples of academic research publications are:

  • scholarly (or peer-reviewed) journals;

  • collections of conference papers (or conference proceedings); and

  • monographs (i.e. books discussing one topic of research, unlike textbooks, which discuss various topics and theories).

These publications exist to report the outcomes of research produced by researchers.

There are thousands of scholarly journals. Also, thousands of academic conferences take place every year.

Publishers aggregate these publications into collections, which are normally called databases. You may also come across phrases like "academic databases", "university databases" and similar - these all mean the same thing: collections of research publications and other content relevant to students and researchers.

Searching for academic research

Your module reading lists and lecturers will guide you to the most relevant and helpful scholarly articles. To find scholarly articles on the topic of your research, use USearch and Google Scholar.

USearch searches across all the most useful computing and technology databases to which the university subscribes.

Also, Google Scholar does the same plus it searches other institutional repositories (archives) for the publications on Open Access. Make sure to connect Google Scholar to the Ulster University databases (using the Settings - Library links) before using Google Scholar for research.

See this guide to finding scholarly articles. The guide contains a video about USearch and advice on linking GoogleScholar to the Ulster University databases.

Google Scholar tips

  • ACTIVITY: Search for IoT data protection. How many results did you get? Now put the second phrase in speech marks (IoT "data protection") and search. How many results did you get? Why is there difference in the number of results?

If you want the search engine to search for exactly what you have typed (e.g. “data protection”), put your search phrases into speech marks to run a phrase search. Google Scholar will thus not run separate searches for each word; it will search only for the whole phrase inside the speech marks. Most academic databases understand phrase searching too.

The [PDF] (or similar) link on the right side of the screen indicates that the article can be accessed for free. To access it, click the link.

The Cited by link will show more recent publications that have used the current article as a source and acknowledged it in their reference list. Adding the word "review" to your search may help you to find publications providing a broad critical overview of the established research on a particular topic.

Difference between USearch and Google Scholar

Linking Google Scholar to university databases


  • In Settings, select Library links

  • search for Ulster

  • select Ulster University and University of Ulster

  • Save

Now, when searching in Google Scholar, the results wll encorporate the publications from the university subscriptions, as well as those which are on open access.

Contact librarians

To discuss your research and its sources, and resolve any problems related to the library, please contact the Library team.