Library Databases Really Have It All

Library Databases Really Have It All

A database is a collection of items organized in a computer and made searchable. Unlike search engines, which use advanced coding and digitized spiders to collect and allow users to search for information, databases use human beings. Think of a search engine as a huge collection of file cabinets with everything the search engine collects and a database as a smaller, more organized set of file cabinets dedicated to a single topic and organized by humans. This gives them far richer resources for research but demands more consideration by the user to get the most out of them. Because humans organize them, databases lack the ability to ‘guess’ your query the way Google can, and therefore, more thought is needed to organize your searches. This lack of guessing means that the search must be stripped down to the fewest words possible to express the main idea.

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When you click on the advanced screen, the first difference you notice is a change in the search boxes. Rather than a single box blank search box and a fairly simple screen, there are several blank boxes, two or three, with one or two drop-down menus in-between them. One menu allows you to describe the type of search if you’re looking for a keyword or author or title. A second menu presents you with three options: AND, OR and NOT. Remember that databases do not have the programming that goes into a search engine. In this case, these three words; AND, OR and NOT act as commands, known as Boolean operators, telling the database specific things about what it needs to look for.

Let’s explore how this works by using a basic example. You are doing research on popular carbonated beverages, focusing in on Coke and Pepsi. Start by typing Coke into one blank box and Pepsi into another, telling the database that these are two distinct ideas that you are searching for.

If you choose the word AND from the drop-down box, you’re telling the database these two ideas/subjects are linked, and you want it to find articles about both companies and eliminate those that only mention one or the other.

If you choose the word OR, you’re telling the database you want articles that feature both companies as well as ones that only feature Coke OR Pepsi.

If you choose NOT, you’re telling the database to exclude an idea. You could, for example, ask for data about Coke NOT Diet Coke, so it would not bring up any items that are about Diet Coke, but still bring up ones about Coke.

Using these in a strategic way can help you zone in on useful articles quicker by giving the database the clearest idea on what you want.

These options increase the specificity of your search and can shorten the time you spend researching if you understand them and utilize them well. And while database companies structure their search options differently, the following are consistent features that all of them use.

Dates: The system is set to search for all articles starting with the earliest one in the system up to the most current. Depending on your topic, however, you might want to adjust this. For instance, if you’re focusing on an up to the moment topic such as papers on scientific discoveries or current events, you can narrow it down to ones written within the last one or two years. On the other hand, if you want to explore older documents, you can ask for items from ten, twenty-five, and, in some cases, a hundred years ago and ignore current scholarship which can help with papers dealing with law, medicine, or other subjects where decisions are built on prior knowledge.

Types of Documents: Databases contain all types of information including reviews, interviews and criticism as well as scholarly articles from sources like newspapers, periodicals and even primary sources. Narrowing both the types of publications or documents can prove helpful for historical research or critical analysis of a piece of art.

Full-Text check box: One of the more frustrating things that you discover during the course of research is that you do not have access to the full text of every selection that comes up in your search results list. By checking this box, you will only see options that have the full text. While this can be a great time-saver in a crunch, however, you run the risk of missing great materials that are useful and might be available through other databases or print versions in your library’s collection. It might even benefit you to do two searches, one with the box checked, and one without, to see the variety of materials available.

Peer-Reviewed: A peer-reviewed article is one that has undergone intense scrutiny before reaching publication. This scholarly practice involves having the author turn in an article which documents his/her/their research to an academic publication who then turns it over to a team of subject experts for review. Once they have made sure the research methodology is sound and demanded rewrites to ensure clarity for the reader, it is published. This ensures that the parodical only prints the best possible research for their specialized audience, and for some assignments, these are required. If so, ticking this box is a must.

Research takes time. Databases allow you to find useful resources in the least amount of time. Using the Advanced Search option reduces that time even further. Longer papers take more time to craft and using these resources to shorten the time necessary to access the best current articles and research means that you can focus on the more difficult job of crafting that information into a coherent and well-thought-out final product.