When It Isn't All On Google
Library Databases 101 — way more free access to info than you may have realized
Databases aren’t just for spies and students anymore.
When you think of the word “database”, do some of the things that may pop into your head resemble a CIA agent hacking into a mainframe and locating “the informant” or perhaps a stressed-out college kid scouring online literature reviews? Those were my only associations for many years. However, through my public library, I was introduced to a world of databases that pertained to my non-student, non-spy life! The library had databases that suddenly made my life significantly more fun, functional, and cheap!
Library databases are free with a library card and are an excellent way to be entertained, develop new career skills, stay healthy, and save lots of money!.
Read on to learn about 10 of the most unexpected and incredibly useful databases that public libraries offer.
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First, What is a Database?
A database is a structured collection of information that is easily accessed. Many library databases are ones that students use for research — online encyclopedias, collections of primary resources on specific subjects (Enoch Pratt Free Library has a whole collection of handwritten documents from the Titanic!), or sites that specialize in school topics with biographies of authors and summaries of famous works. There is also a huge array of databases for professionals — resources for non-profit organizations, scientific journals, industry reports, etc.
Guarantee of Reliability
Unlike a Google search where you don’t really know when, why, or by whom information was written, database content is very reliable. All content within a library database will identify the following:
- Publishing organization (so you can determine any biases)
- Where the author found their information
- The knowledge that the articles were peer-reviewed, or checked for accuracy by other professionals in the field
- Date of publication (so you’ll know if the information is too old to be relevant)
My 10 Coolest Library Databases
So now that you know what is a database is and that they’re great sources of information, read on to find out about some of the most interesting and surprising features available through library databases.
Anyone who’s spent the smallest amount of time delving into family research quickly learns that modern genealogy is almost synonymous with Ancestry.com. This online database helps you build your family tree and makes finding and organizing incredible information about your own ancestors simple and fun.
Many libraries offer this expensive database free with your library card, but because of the cost of membership per computer, some libraries only have it available for use within the library building.
2. Lynda Library
For learning a new career skill such as web development, photography, marketing, design, or software development, check out Lynda Library’s excellent video tutorials. Each of these videos are made by experts in the field and provide and an incredible amount of clear, quality information in each installment. If you’re looking to make a career transition, this is the ideal place to learn a whole new skillset, completely free.
3. Medline Plus
For reputable medical information, start your research with Medline Plus, by the National Institute of Health and the U.S. National Library of Medicine. This useful resource contains information about drugs and supplements, medical encyclopedias, and videos and tools including tutorials, games and quizzes. A popular tool is the Pill Identifier which is a big help to individuals who are taking several medications and need to keep them all straight.
Note: This is not a substitute for the advice of a medical professional.
4. Gale Small Business Help
Starting your own business has never been easier thanks to a wide collection of amazing databases that help entrepreneurs write business plans, study competition (here and here), identify your client base, and study your industry. Gale, a Cengage Company, offers some of the best resources whether you’re looking to start a new bricks-and-mortar shop, an app company, or just take your eBay store to the next level.
Libraries often offer in-person help sessions to walk customers through using these business resources and provide additional support for getting your business ideas off the ground.
5. Language Learning Resources
If you’re looking to develop a new job skill or make new friends by learning another language, definitely look into Mango Languages or your library’s equivalent program. Make an account, study one of the 70+ languages through fun, interactive games, and track your progress and earn learning points. They even have “Pirate” for international Talk Like a Pirate Day!
6. Free Legal Forms from Gale
Gale LegalForms is a game-changer for anyone who’s ever tried to find a legitimate copy of a legal document online. This collection of forms — leases, tax forms, adoption forms, wills, you name it! — are all free and easy to find. It’s a refreshing change from the unpleasant world of “free” internet legal forms which usually turn out to be a scam once you’ve spent the time to fill them out.
7. Ebooks and Movies
Yes, you read that right — you can cancel all your ebook and movie streaming subscriptions because the library has them waiting for you, already paid for and free for your use! Overdrive and Hoopla offer ebooks and audio ebooks, and many libraries have video streaming through databases like Kanopy. There’s nothing better than sweating it out at the gym to a little free Tom Clancy in your earbuds.
8. Consumer Reports
Consumer Reports magazine has gone digital. The company is still rigorously testing over 5000 products each year, and with your library card, you can have access to their monthly reports on ovens, cars, and other products without having to sign up to have the magazine sent to your house.
9. Test Prep
If you have any test on the horizon, Learning Express Library is the database for you. ACT, SAT, TOEIC, LSAT, Postal Worker exam, GED, you name it! There is a practice test for everyone from high schoolers to those training for a career.
10. Car Manuals
AutoMate and similar databases are a DIY money-saver’s dream. Simply enter your car’s make, model, and year, and you’ll be provided with step-by-step diagrams, videos, parts and labor estimates, and more. Whether you’re fixing things yourself or just want to make sure you can speak with authority at the mechanic, this database couldn’t make the world of cars any easier.
Which Databases are Right for You?
Now that you have a taste of all the convenient and wonderful ways databases can improve your everyday life, take a moment to call or visit your local library and ask a reference librarian to tell you about the most exciting databases on offer. You never know when a free library database will have just what you need for work, fun, or learning.