Using Databases

Learning Objectives

  • Examine ways to find scholarly articles and books using library databases and catalogs

Now that you are comfortable distinguishing between academic and popular sources and evaluating online sources, let’s take a look at a key skill in performing research: using databases.

Woman sitting at an old computer in a library.

Figure 1. With today’s technology, source finding is not limited to hard copies of books from libraries- online scholarly databases, while sometimes complicated to navigate at first, are a wealth of knowledge and information.

When you undertake a research project, there are many ways you might gather information. Depending on your topic and focus, you may conduct interviews, gather data, or look through archives. One of the most fruitful ways to gather information is by searching a database.

A specialized database—often called a research or library database—allows targeted searching on one or more specific subject areas (i.e., engineering, medicine, Latin American history, etc.), for a specific format (i.e., books, articles, conference proceedings, video, images), or for a specific date range during which the information was published. Most of what specialized databases contain can not be found by Google or Bing.

Searching in Databases

Searching a database is not quite as simple as performing a Google search, however. It requires knowledge of a few skills that you will practice in this workshop. Once you complete the following activities, you will know how to locate specific, relevant material on specialized databases.

Watch IT

This video reviews some of the best search tips for getting the information you want from a database.

You can view the transcript for “Database searching tips” here (opens in new window).

Try It


Workshop: Using a Database

1. Choose one of the following research topics:

  • Fast fashion’s influence on unfair labor practices
  • The relationship between the internet and the rise of plastic surgery
  • The influence of the Black Lives Matter movement in American life
  • How standardized testing has changed American education
  • How American media has portrayed the opioid epidemic

2. Decide which of the terms in your topic are the most important and brainstorm a list of terms that are related to these words.


  • Fast fashion: Fashion industry, fashion manufacturing, fashion retailers
  • Unfair labor practices: Sweatshops, unethical labor, “cut and sew” laborers, outsourced labor, unfair wages, human rights violations, child labor, exploitation

3. Consider Boolean operators. Make a list of the ways you will approach your search by properly using Boolean operators. Make a list of three to five.

Example: “Fast fashion” AND “child labor” OR “unethical labor”

4. Put your work to use by practicing these search terms in a database. Remember that your research can lead to more search terms. For example, you may discover that Los Angeles is a hub for unfair labor practices, so you could add this term to your search. When you have found a strong, relevant source, post it to your working document along with a brief explanation.

5. Reflect on this experience. How did searching in a database differ from searching in Google? Was it easier or harder to find sources? Were you able to find the kind of information you wanted in the database?


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