Database Searching

What is a database and what can I find in one?

A database is a collection of information which can be searched. Some databases cover a single subject or discipline area, others are multidisciplinary.

Types of information and information sources that are in databases are:

  • scholarly journal articles
  • trade journal articles
  • magazine articles
  • newspaper articles
  • e-books
  • images
  • maps
  • standards
  • patents
  • statistics
  • company and industry information

Why isn't everything full text?

Not all databases are full text. Databases usually have one of three levels of content: index, full-text, or a combination of both.

Indexing databases
  • Indexing databases provide a citation and usually an abstract.
  • Provide no direct access to the full-text of journal articles.
  • Sometimes an index can be the key source of information about the research published in a specific field (e.g. CAB Abstracts is the key database for Plant Science).
  • You can use the citation details to search for the full text in Library Search.
Full-text databases
  • Full-text databases will provide access to complete articles.
  • Some full-text databases contain the publications of just one publisher, e.g. Science Direct, Wiley Interscience, and SpringerLink. They don't provide a comprehensive overview of what's been published on a topic.
Combination databases
  • Your search results in these databases will include a mixture of both citations with abstracts, and full-text journal articles.
  • These databases tend to cover a range of different subject areas.
  • They include content from a wide range of publishers, and what level of content is made available will depend on the arrangements made with individual publishers.

Why should I search databases instead of the internet?

When people talk about searching the internet they are usually referring to a search engine, like Google, which scans millions of pages.

  • The internet is unstructured.
  • There is no control over the organisation of these resources.
  • There is no control over the level, quality, authenticity and currency of information. These vary not only from site to site, but also from page to page within sites.

Databases are developed, structured and maintained to meet specific information needs. They:

  • Focus on specific subject areas.
  • Focus on specific types of information, e.g. journal articles (original research and reviews), conference proceedings, book chapters, and reports.
  • Contain peer-reviewed and referred resources which have been quality checked prior to publication.
  • Allow you to identify significant publications and authors in the field.
  • Allows you to track research in the field over a set timeframe.

For a succinct comparison of database and web search engines go to The University of Auckland. Business Information Skills Online Beyond the web opens in a new window.

The video Library databases vs Search engines below, produced by the Wellington Medical and Health Sciences Library at the University of Otago, describes the differences between searching the web and searching databases.