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Information Search: Databases

Hi Class, welcome to the week where we begin to discuss databases and searching in a bit more detail.


This week we have four readings -- two from our book and two additional online articles. The readings from the book detail some search strategies. The two online readings discuss two major online sources, the Internet Archive and the Digital Public Library of America.

In addition to this lecture, I'll post a short demonstration video about how to apply some of what we learn here to online database search.

"Make It Work for You," Ch. 7, Knott

In the last week, many of you found some interesting but specific subject databases when you searched UK Libraries' website. If you know what you want (and what area to search), these are good databases to begin a search with. However, certainty is not always a privilege we have. For example, we may not be fully familiar with a database and what it has to offer. Or we may not know exactly what terms to use when we begin a search because, among other reasons, we may not be really sure what we're looking for in a database or for a particular homework assignment ("what will I write about??"). Thus, starting a search with a general database, like EBSCOhost's Academic Search Complete, can be helpful. It can help orient us to the kind of articles and other works that we really need.

Academic Search Complete (ASC)

The many databases provided by companies like EBSCOhost, Proquest, or Gale generally all look alike, but don't be fooled by this. Each of these vendors provide multiple databases---some that are general search databases and some that are focused on specific topics---and even if they look alike, they will search different sets of sources.

On the right side of this slide, you see a screenshot of Academic Search Complete. If you click on the Publications link at the top of that page, it'll take you to a new page full of a long list of sources that ASC can search.

Newspaper Source

And then, here is another EBSCOhost database, but this, called Newspaper Source, only searches newspapers. It looks almost the same as ASC, but the two do not overlap much. To illustrate that:

Academic Search Complete (ASC): Search example

Here is a search for the term 'google' in ASC. Our basic keyword search results in over 36 thousand links to sources located in newspapers, magazines, academic journals, and more.

Newspaper Source: Search example

But in Newspaper Source, our same basic keyword search for the term 'google' results in over 53 thousand articles only from newspapers. Not only are the results different, but the number of sources vary also, and instead of being able to filter by source type (since there is only one type of source: newspapers), here can refine by Publication Title (as well as other facets not shown here).

ASC: Keywords versus Controlled Vocabulary

When we search general or specific databases, we often begin with the keywords that come to mind -- those keywords that closely match the topic we're interested in exploring. But there comes a point in our migration from the general to the specific where we not only want to explore specific, topical databases, but we also want to use specific terms. Controlled vocabulary offers this ability to us. These are terms that have been identified as being about some topic, and we use them to retrieve sources that have specifically been tagged or categorized with those terms.

Let's say, for example, that I'm interested in reading about search itself. If I use Academic Search Complete's controlled vocabulary, I have a variety of options available to me, and will select one or more depending on the subtle difference each of these controlled term provides.

On the left, we see variations among terms about search. These range from Searching behavior to Searching, keyword, and using them as our search terms offers more control than just searching using the term search.

On the right is listed a bunch of synonyms that we can use for our cell phones. These terms were not taken from EBSCOhost, but from a thesaurus, and they demonstrate just some of the variations in terminology, and thus complications, that we have to think about when we search. Because if we over select just one of these, it means we're possibly excluding a bunch of other sources that may be relevant.

ASC: Controlled Vocabulary

I'll demonstrate how to take advantage of controlled vocabulary in a second video, but here's an example from EBSCOhost's ASC. To access this vocabulary, we click on the Subject Terms link at the top of the page, and then look for a specific controlled term. If you find an interesting term and use it, you'll retrieve all sources (e.g., all journal articles) that have been categorized as being about that term.

ASC: Boolean Searching

I'll also demonstrate Boolean searching in the separate video, and we'll learn more about this type of search tactic in our lessons on Google, but Boolean searching allows us to use three specific system terms to help us select or exclude search results: AND, OR, NOT.

In the screen shot on the right, I'm using Boolean searching in combination with controlled vocabularies, but we could also use Boolean searching using our own keywords, too.

Here's a quick explanation of how Boolean search works. Note that different databases systems employ this differently -- some use these specific keywords, but others may use other signifiers. Despite these differences, they all do the same thing. The Boolean:

AND: if I search for 'cats AND dogs', using the term AND in my search, my search results should include only those sources that contain both terms.

OR: if I search for 'cats OR dogs', using the term OR in my search, my search results expand (grow) to include more results, including any source that includes only the term 'cats', only the term 'dogs', or both terms.

NOT: if I search for 'cats NOT dogs', using the term NOT in my search, my search results should include only those documents or sources that include the term 'cats' and specifically do not include the term 'dogs'. In this sense, the Boolean NOT limits my results.

Boolean Searches And, Or, Not

Here's a graphic representation of Boolean search using Venn diagrams (by the way, feel free to visit the site in the URL at the bottom of this slide, it contains some nice tips).

Not Just EBSCOhost

Other databases work similarly. Remember ProQuest? It has its general database and then its specific ones, and it also offers controlled vocabulary (they call them thesauri), and Boolean searching.

ProQuest's Thesauri

Here's a list of the different thesauri employed by ProQuest. EBSCOhost also uses different sets of controlled vocabulary, but they tie specific controlled vocabularies to specific databases. ProQuest makes all of their thesauri available. This can be useful and also shows a difference between the two main vendors.

Not necessarily for everyday

You won't need these tools everyday, but they should be a part of your toolbox, so that when you do have a demanding information need that requires a thorough search of the documentation and the literature, you'll have them available to you. That is, these tools are precision instruments, and having a command of them will provide to you a valuable skill set.


And then, if you want to get specific, you can search for specific e-journals (journals that are online if not also in print). Many journals are titled topically -- that is, are descriptive of their contents and their areas of interest -- and so searching them by keywords can be helpful in identifying important journals in your area of study.

"The Elements of Search," Ch. 8, Knott

We've briefly covered the elements of the search interface in the previous slides. Chapter 8 extends upon these and adds an additional element: You.

These precision instruments require a little work -- you have to get to know them, how they work, what they search, and so forth, and you have to devise ways, give the background knowledge and information you already possess, to leverage the most out of them.

Plus, you won't need all of them all the time -- but knowing a few of the important topical databases that you have available to you is forever helpful.

Remember also, all databases have help pages that demonstrate how to get the most of their databases (and thus, help you not waste your time, which is valuable, right?). So get to know those help pages. Even Google has one.

The Help Pages

Here's a screen shot of the menu that leads to ProQuest's help page. Get to know these!

Demonstration Video

I'll provide an extra video that helps put this all into some perspective and practice.

Can the Internet be Archived?

For some of our lectures, we'll talk not just search and sources from our book readings, but I'll also highlight some other sources that are on the web and that you should know about. Today, I want to highlight web archiving and a couple of digital libraries.

How many times have you clicked on a link only to find that it no longer works? Your experience with this problem may vary, but it is a growing problem on the web. We rely on documentation and evidence to support the claims that we make. In fact, all of science and technology and research (humanities or social science) depends on our ability to link documents together, either through the footnote or the citation or the link. Link rot threatens our ability to progress and advance. The Internet Archive helps address this problem by capturing versions of web pages as they existed at certain points in time, but as the article on the IA indicates, no archiving service can be comprehensive. The Web is too big and some things will not be captured or will be lost even after they're captured.

time travel -- Memento

time travel, like the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, provides an interface for accessing archived versions of the web. Check both sites out at the links in this slide. They're not only super cool, but super helpful too. At the right is a screen shot from the Wayback Machine of as it looked on October 13, 1999.

Digital Public Library of America

In addition to archiving past versions of the web, digital libraries offer an additional way to explore all that's available but difficult to find via a simple Google search. The DPLA specifically attempts to link together digital collections across the U.S. In doing so, it provides access to millions of times -- photos, sound files, text documents, and more. If you create an account, totally free, like a public library, you can build your own collections. If you're technologically oriented, you can also use the DPLA and its database to build apps -- whether for the desktop or the smartphone.


europeana is Europe's counterpart to the U.S.'s DPLA, which is also as beautiful and as awesome. You can use europeana to locate images of artwork, artefacts, books, videos, audio, and more. Check it out.

In Conclusion

  • Search strategy: when starting off, it's sometimes best to begin with the general and then migrate to the specific. This is true not just for databases but also for terms, and it works just as well in these databases as it does with Google.
  • Use controlled vocabularies, if offered, by the database, to help you control your own search.
  • Use Boolean searching
  • Get even more specific with e-journal searches
  • Read the help pages for any specific database. Knowing how to use a specific database will save you time.
  • Visit sources such as the Internet Archive, the DPLA, europeana, and others for access to rich collections, archive or current
teaching/information-search-databases.txt · Last modified: 2019/01/25 15:47 by seanburns