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Choosing & Using Library Databases: Know What's in the Database

Subject Areas

The key to finding the right database is knowing what's in it. Here are some questions to ask about any database before you use it.

What Subject Area(s) Does It Cover?

Note what subject areas are covered to ensure that you are using the correct database for your topic. Searching for engineering articles in PsycInfo won't get you far.

In addition, your choice of database will influence the kind of analysis you're likely to find. Searching for "marijuana legalization" will get very different results if you use PubMed (medical studies), Politics Collection (public policy issues), or Music Index (many articles from Rolling Stone).

What Date Range Does it Cover?

Most databases only cover materials published in the last few decades; there's usually a specific cutoff date. If you're looking for articles or research from before that date, you'll need to use a different database.

In a few databases, you also need to ask "How recent does it get?" Databases of historical materials usually don't go up to the present. And some databases simply exclude the most recent year or two of all journal articles.

What Types of Material Does It Cover?

Most databases index scholarly journal articles, but many cover other types of content, either in addition to or instead of. Some common material types include:

  • magazine or newspaper articles
  • books
  • book chapters
  • dissertations
  • conference papers
  • statistical data
  • images, audio, or video