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Distance Students: Searching the Library Databases

What is a Database?

What is a Database?

In the context of libraries and doing research, the generally accepted definition of a database is "an electronic collection of searchable information on one or more topics."  The easiest way to think about databases is to imagine them as living behind a locked door within the internet.  This means, that went you do a regular internet search (such as searching Google), you won't find and see what is inside.  And it is important to remember, that some of the best information available for academic research is locked behind this door. 

With all of these great materials locked behind closed doors, you might be wondering where that leaves you, and how you can access these materials without spending money.  The great news is, you can access these locked materials through the library.  The library has purchased subscriptions for various databases utilized by our students and faculty members.  Because of this subscription, you as a student researcher, can access all of the materials within the database (that are usually locked behind closed doors), for free.  

Accessing Library Databases

Accessing Library Databases

The McGovern Library provides access to over 100 databases, many of which are subscription based and are not free to the general public.  To access the library's databases, start a the library homepage and click on the "Database List" button located under Quick Links.  

From the homepage, you will be redirected to the full list of Databases provided through McGovern Library. 

Finding a Database From the A-Z List

Finding a Database From the A-Z List

If you know the name of the Database you would like to access, you can either type the name of the database into the search bar, or find the database in the A-Z list.  You can also jump to a letter, for example, selecting 'M' to quickly locate the database Mitchell Daily Republic

If you don't have a specific database to search, but want to find a database within a specific subject area, you can limit the databases by subject.  Click on the "All Subjects" dropdown menu and select the desired subject area. 

Choosing a Database to Search

Choosing a Database to Search

With over 100 databases to choose from, it can be difficult to determine which database is the best to search in.  Before you get overwhelmed with the amount of choices, follow the steps below to help narrow you choices to find the best database for your research. 

  1. Determine the Scope of Your Assignment
    Your first step in choosing a database is to determine what the scope of your assignment is.  Read through your assignment's requirements and determine what types of materials you will be needed to locate and cite.  Also, determine the subject area of your assignment.  Identify the primary and any secondary topics your assignment will cover.  You might have more than one subject area, and as such, you might need to conduct your research in more than one subject specific database. 
  2. Find a Selection of Databases
    There are two types of databases, multi-subject and subject-specific.  A good rule of thumb is to start your research in a multi-subject database to see what different groups are saying about your topic (such as what scientists are saying versus what economists are saying).  Once you have a general understanding of the broader academic conversation, you can begin searching in subject-specific databases. 
    • Multi-subject databases, like their name implies, provides materials covering a topic from several different subject viewpoints.  
    • Subject-specific databases focus on one subject area, and will dive more deeply into a topic than materials provided by multi-subject databases will.  To locate a subject-specific database, select the subject area you would like to search, in the drop-down menu for "All Subjects". 
  3. Begin Your Research & Find Additional Databases
    Once you have a list of databases to search, begin your research.  As you work through the various databases and compile your research, you may notice that you are finding materials and topic areas that land in a different subject.  Go back to the A-Z database list and locate databases in your secondary topic's subject area and search those databases as well.  

Example Search: Academic Search Premier

An Example Search in Academic Search Premier 

Once you select the database Academic Search Premier from the A-Z database list, you will be redirected to the page shown below.  This page is the Advanced Search page, and will allow you to add in various limiters to your search from the beginning.  

Next, type in your keywords and search terms.  Also, add in any limiters you would like to apply from the beginning.  Below is an example search for college students and social media usage.  We will add in limiters in the next step after we search only these terms. 

This search provided 45 search results, which is a fairly manageable number.  We could stop our search here, or we could add in additional limiters.  Additional limiters will allow us to focus our search results more, and will ensure that we are finding results desired.  If the additional limiters bring the search results to zero, we will know that our original search terms were too narrow, and we will have to broaden our search terms. 

We will add the following limiters (which are show in a screenshot below):

  • Publication Date Range: 2015-2020
  • Full-Text
  • Scholarly (Peer-Reviewed) Journals

Once your limiters are in place, you can begin looking through the results.  Find an article you like, and click the title.  This will bring you to the article's record and will provide additional information.  Below are some of the additional pieces of information provided. 

PDF Full Text: A PDF copy of the article.  If this is not here, you will need to request the article through Inter-Library Loan to access and read. 
Title: The title is always located at the top of the record, followed by the author and publisher information. 
Subject Terms: These terms are created and provided by the authors, but are great terms to use for subsequent searches.  These terms are also linked (which allows you to click on the term and be re-directed to a search result page for that term).
Abstract: The abstract is a summary of the article, and is written by the author.  Always read the abstract to determine if the article contains information relevant to your research. 
Cite: Citations are provided by the database, but should always be checked before used in case of errors. 

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