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GEN: Choosing and Using Library Databases

Know What's in the Database!

The key to finding the right database is knowing what's in it. Here are some questions to ask about any database before you use it.

What Subject Area(s) Does It Cover?

Note what subject areas are covered to ensure that you are using the correct database for your topic. Searching for chemistry articles in American Indian Experiance won't get you far.

In addition, your choice of database will influence the kind of analysis you're likely to find. Searching for "marijuana legalization" will get very different results if you use Opposing Viewpoints, Science News, or The Boston Globe.

What Date Range Does it Cover?

Most databases only cover materials published in the last few decades; there's usually a specific cutoff date. If you're looking for articles or research from before that date, you'll need to use a different databasee.

In a few databases, you also need to ask "How recent does it get?" Databases of historical materials usually don't go up to the present. And some databases simply exclude the most recent year or two of all journal articles.

What Types of Material Does It Cover?

Most databases index scholarly journal articles, but many cover other types of content, either in addition to or instead of. Some common material types include:

  • magazine or newspaper articles - including popular magazines like People or Glamour
  • books
  • book chapters
  • dissertations
  • conference papers
  • statistical data
  • images, audio, or video

Using Multidisciplinary Databases

We have a few  "multidisciplinary" databases that cover all topics? Here's a quick run-down:

Database

Contents

Pros

Cons

Academic Search Complete
Academic Search Complete
  • mix of academic, popular, and news articles
  • mix of full-text and citation only
  • excellent breadth
  • detailed subject headings
  • good place to start when you're not sure what database to use
  • lack of depth
JSTOR
JSTOR
  • small selection of core academic journals
  • all full-text
  • all journals go back to volume 1
  • tull-text searching available
  • lacks most recent 3-5 years of most journals
  • poor search interface for discovering articles by topic
  • irregular subject coverage: weak in some fields

Academic OneFile

 

  • leading magazines, newspapers and scholarly journals
  • business, legal, and medical news and reference info
  • includes a topic finder that can help expand the topic and search terms
  • tull-text searching available
  • newspaper coverage irregular, e.g. only last six months of LA Times
  • there's a lot of news, easy to get overwhelmed, lost

What About EbscoHost and ProQuest?

EbscoHost is not a database, it is a platform that hosts databases. So are ProQuest and ABC-CLIO. They host lots of databases.  Their logos appear prominently on the web pages, but knowing which vendor you used doesn't really help narrow the options if you're trying to retrace your search results.

Saying "I found this article in ProQuest (or EBSCO or ABC-CLIO)" is like saying "I made this file with Microsoft"—it's true, but not a lot of help in finding the right program to open the file.