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Library Resources for Online Students: What's a Database?

A guide to library resources for distance learners.

What's a Database?

A library database is a searchable online catalog that contains information about published items, including articles from journals, magazines, and newspapers as well as reference information, books and other documents.

Databases contain premium content that is not freely available on the internet. The library pays for subscriptions to these resources, unless they are open access (see "What is Open Access?" to the right).

Watch this five minute video tutorial to learn more: Researching 101: Databases

Types of Databases

General Interest

General interest databases are a great place to begin your research. They contain the broadest range of materials and include many different subjects and types of publications. Examples of general interest databases include:

Platforms such as ProQuest Central and EBSCO Discovery Services provide access to many different databases which can be searched all at once or individually.

Discipline Specific

These databases contain articles that appear in journals from major scholarly publishers in a particular field. Examples include:

Indexes

Indexes do not provide full text (but they may link to it), and they contain powerful searching features like the ability to find all the articles an author has cited, and articles that have cited that author. They are useful tools when investigating journal rankings and conducting citation analysis. Examples of indexes include:

E-book Collections

These databases contain full text of e-books which you can read online and in some cases download and print sections. Examples include:

Find out more in our E-books Guide.

Reference

These databases provide reference information (facts, statistics, equations, background information). They can cover a wide area of subject matter, like encyclopedias, or they can focus on a field like engineering. Examples include:

What Will I Find in a Database?

Databases provide citation information about the items they index. A citation typically consists of:

  • Author's name
  • Title of Article
  • Source (i.e. Title of the Journal/Magazine/Newspaper)
  • Publisher
  • Date of Publication

Some databases also provide abstracts of the items they index. An abstract is a brief summary of the article.

Some provide the full text (the entire article or book) for items they index.

What is Open Access?

Open access is free, unrestricted online access to high-quality, peer-reviewed academic literature. A growing number of scholarly publications are following the open access model. Open access materials can be found in databases such as: