Sunday, May 8, 2011

Database Reviews!!!

I think I’m gonna start reviewing bibliographic databases on this blog.  It gives me a way to review over the many databases I’ve used in the past and discover new databases for future use.  Any librarian worth her salt needs to be familiar with a variety of databases.  This little task should keep me up to date while I wait for gainful employment.  J

I’m not setting a day every week.  I’m just going to post as I dig through some databases.  My goal is to post once a week on this, but I make no promises.  I’m going to try to vary the subject focus, so I won’t just be posting general or humanities or biology databases. 

This may also be useful for some of my readers not in the realm of library science.  Students at all levels should be familiar with at least a few databases.  Knowing where to look online is important for research efficiency, especially given that a great deal of research is done online nowadays.  You may also learn something you don’t know about the library world.  It could be fun.

This week I’m just going to give some general information regarding bibliographic databases.

Most of the time bibliographic databases are just called databases.  The basic format is just what it sounds like:  A bibliography of articles or other resources located online.  I associate databases with universities and colleges, but your public library is bound to have access to a few (here’s an example from the New York Public Library).  A database is searchable and gives researchers a chance to find citations and interesting information resources.  These databases can also list where the item is located (for instance, if your university owns the item).  Many databases have access to full-text articles.  This wasn’t the case several years back, but given how popular they are, full-text databases are becoming the norm. 

This is awesome for patrons.  As long as you have your institution’s codes, you can access research anywhere you have internet access.  This also makes it easier to access information 24/7.  Having gone through two graduate schools, I can say this kind of access becomes vital to a student’s life.  My last graduate degree was online.  Accessing my university’s libraries would have required a five hour drive.  The ability to access articles and citations (useful for local ILL) made the degree possible.  It’s also nice having the ability to research while in your pajamas.

Databases can be general in that they’ll cover a little bit of everything.  Or they can be subject specific.  Subject specific databases can be broad and cover all the hard sciences or the humanities.  They can also be very specific and just cover fields like nursing or psychology.  There are literally hundreds of databases.  No person is expected to know them all.  At least that’s not the impression I got working on my library science degree (oh, there are databases just for library science). 

Databases are often found as aggregators.  This means multiple databases can be searched simultaneously, using a common search interface.  The search screen (with all the fun search boxes) you’re looking at may just cover one database or it may contain several databases (an aggregator).  Aggregators make it easier for a user to search without having to dig through all the database descriptions to find the “right” one.  This can, however, cause problems.  An aggregator is only as good as the least efficient database.  It’s just like in team sports.  The team is just as good as the weakest player.  Searching in some aggregators can be less fruitful than just searching in a lone database if the aggregator contains a database with inefficient search capabilities.  As far as I know, this is getting worked out.  I’ve not encountered too many problems myself. 

That said, whether using lone databases or aggregators, conducting multiple searches is in a researcher’s best interest.  Too many times I’ve seen students walk away from research with the first handful or articles they find, usually complaining later when they have trouble.  I cannot stress this enough:  Utilize multiple databases if you can, conduct multiple searches using a variety of search terms, and don’t be so lazy as to take the first article you find!  Research is hard work.  You cannot expect good results with a five minute database session.

Ok.  I think I’ve covered enough tonight.  I would also like to point out to my readers that having trouble with databases is normal, especially to new researchers.  Searching these badboys can be overwhelming to new users.  You know what’s the best way through this initial awkwardness and fear?  A librarian!  If you have trouble, a librarian can help you figure out what database to use and how to efficiently search said database.  And many academic libraries offer bibliographic instruction sessions focusing on the use of online databases.  Research is a skill that takes education and practice to master.  Take advantage of what libraries and librarians offer you in this regard.

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