Databases 101


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Not sure what a database is or why you should use one?

Read on to find out and watch this video to find out the best way to find databases in your subject area.

My professor told me to use the library databases, what does that mean?

Many times you are instructed by your professors to use library databases to find research for your paper or projects.  So, what is a library database? A library database is an electronic catalog or index that SDSU subscribes to that contains information.  These databases are organized so that you can search through a great deal of information easily.  The information within library databases vary but typically, they include articles and other information from print sources like magazines, academic journals, newspapers and reference books.

Databases have different topical coverage within them. Some databases are multidisciplinary and have information on many different topics. Other databases are specialized to one topical area like business, or psychology. It is important to keep this in mind when it comes time to pick which database to search in. 

I can’t use very many Internet sources for my paper/project, does a library database count?

The library subscribes to over a 100 databases which include a vast number of journals and articles. In fact, many of our library’s journals and articles are only available in electronic format.  Don’t be worried that you won’t be able to find the exact information you need, often the electronic journals or articles are in PDF format.  Therefore, these journals and articles look exactly like they would if you were to go to the hard copy print version of the journal or article. So although the journals and articles you find online are electronic they are not the same as the “Internet” sources your professors often warn against.

Internet sources like those found using Google or on Wikipedia don’t always provide trustworthy information. The information found through library databases are part of the library collection, just like a book on the shelf.  Therefore, using a library database can lead you to helpful and reliable information for your papers and projects. When using a library database, you can limit your searches to different types of information like popular sources or peer reviewed sources. This control differs than what is available on the free web and can help you find more reliable information.

How do I get access from off campus?

Since the library pays for students to have access to databases, and the information within them, it is important that the databases recognize you as being affiliated with SDSU. Otherwise, they will ask you to buy your own subscription to gain access to database information.  In order to ensure that you are recognized as a member of the SDSU community, get into the databases from the library’s homepage. You can access databases listed on the A-Z list or on the Research and Course Guides.  If you are off campus, after clicking into a database you will be prompted to put in your name, Red ID and Library Pin. This will authenticate you as a SDSU member and give you the same access as if you were on campus.  Need a library pin? Click Here.

Databases seem great, how do I find a full text article on my topic?

If you want to find an article or journal on your topic but don’t have a specific citation in mind then it is best to take a look at the library databases in your subject area. The library has access to over a 100 databases, so the trick is to search in a database that covers your subject area or topical area. Librarians have created Research Guides and Course Guides to help point you in the right direction of databases within your topic. 

You can choose a Research Guide on your broad topical area, for example, art, business, education, or psychology.  Then once you are in the guide for your subject area, if you click on the tab on the left hand side of the guide for Articles you will see a number of the recommended databases that cover your topical area. Each database has slightly different coverage and the short description of the database can help you choose which one to search in. 

Some library databases only provide citation information for the materials they index. Other databases provide both citation and full text information.  Many of the library databases give you the option to limit your searching within that database to full text only.  The library also offers a service called SFX that will let you search for an article in other databases if the article looks helpful but the current database you are searching in doesn’t have full text access.  To use this search function, look for the Find Full Text link located on the search results screen under the article you want.  If the library doesn’t have access either electronically or in print, you can request the desired article free of charge using ILL.

Remember, librarians at the reference desk are available to help you and they can suggest databases to try based on your specific topic.  Also, there are subject specialty librarians who specialize in particular subject areas who can provide expertise in searching those specialized databases.  Don’t hesitate to stop by the reference desk to get help or make an appointment to meet with your subject librarian!

Written by: Brittany Geissinger Questions?

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