What is a database?

A database is a collection of information organized in a standard format to allow for easy retrieval. Databases cover many topics including literature, biography, health, business, history, and science and technology. Databases will help you because they give you quick access to authoritative information. Information is authoritative when it comes from experts and professionals and has been reviewed for accuracy.

Can't I get the same information on the Web?

Maybe. Much of the information you can get from the Web is free, but it can be difficult to know whether the information is from a reliable source. The library pays for the use of its databases. It costs money because the information found in the library databases is targeted and accurate, it comes from authoritative sources and takes work to compile and index. You can't find our databases for free on the Web.

What's the difference between databases and web sites?

The Web is free to browse and contains information posted by whomever chooses to create a web site. Databases, while they are free for library patrons to use, cost the library money and contain information that cannot be found on the Web. Databases are especially useful for newspaper and magazine articles, biographical information, business statistics, directories, and encyclopedia articles. Searching web sites, on the other hand, is helpful for information on a unique topic, current news and entertainment, and access to government agencies or specific corporations.

Using a database is hard. What's wrong if I just Google it?

There's nothing wrong with searching the Web to get information. Just keep in mind that the information you get hasn't been evaluated. It could be inaccurate, biased, or it might not be current. Also, the authors of web sites might not have the same credentials as the authors of articles from the databases. (Most teachers and professors prefer that students cite sources by authors with recognized credentials.) The ProQuest database, for instance, contains articles in many subjects from a large number of magazines and journals. The authors of these articles have published before and their work has been reviewed for accuracy by the magazine editors.

To make searching databases easier, use Power Search. This works something like Google in that you enter one search and it checks multiple sources. The difference is that it searches for information in subscription databases and the information that comes back has been checked for accuracy. 

Questions to ask about ANY information:

  • Currency: How recent is the information, and when was it last updated?

  • Organization: Is it easy to find the information you need?

  • Accuracy: How reliable is the information, and are the facts accurate?

  • Bibliography: How easy is the work to cite in a bibliography? Does it give you the author, title, publisher, and date?

  • Unfamiliar Topics: How useful is it when you don’t know where to start?

  • Languages: How easily can the work provide languages other than English?

Any source, whether a library database or website, can have good information. It is necessary to think critically about all information that you read or view.