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Database searching

What's in a database?

What's in a database?

iconYou're almost certainly going to have to search a database at some point. Most of these databases are paid for by the Library. The majority will index articles from specific journals within a given subject-area, but some take in a broader multidisciplinary selection. 

Here's a quick overview of the types available:

Full-text journal archive

Some databases are searching the full text of the indexed documents, and may even make those full texts available to you. JSTOR is a multidisciplinary example of such an archive.

Bibliographic database

Most databases do not hold, or even search, the full text of a document. Rather they are just an index of catalogue records, usually consisting of:

  • the article's title (which will usually be descriptive)
  • its authors and their organisations
  • the publication date
  • the publication source (e.g. journal, volume number, issue number etc.)
  • an abstract summary of the article (a few hundred words long)
  • subject headings indicating the content of the article in a few key words.

When searching this sort of database, most of your 'hits' are going to come from the title, abstract, and subject headings. This is a much smaller target than if you're able to search the full text, which means that your searching needs to be more accurate.

An archery target. The outer white section represents fancy search algorithms; the black section (the next ring in) represents a full text search; the blue ring is the abstract; the red ring is our subject headings; and the gold at the centre is the title
Depending on the database you're using, the target of your search may be much smaller than you'd like. On this archery target, a bibliographic database presents a much narrower target than say a Google search with its full text access and fancy search algorithms.

Journal coverage

Different databases index different journals. You may need to do searches in more than one place. And just because an article is indexed in a database does not mean that we necessarily have access to it.

Lets look at an example:

12 major journals

All 12 journals

Let's imagine we're doing a course called Chocolate Studies, and that there are 12 main journals in this discipline. When we're doing our research, we could search each of those journals independently, but that would take a long time. Databases exist to allow us to search several journals at once.

Web of Sweeties

10 of the 12 journals

Ten of the major journals are indexed in Web of Sweeties*, which also covers a breadth of material on other subjects. It's an improvement on having to search through 12 separate journals, but we're missing some important titles.

not a real database


9 of the 12 journals

Nine of the journals (including the two that weren't in Web of Sweeties) are indexed in ChocBase*, which specialises in our discipline of interest. Neither database holds all the important journals, but we can cover those 12 journals by searching both databases separately.

also not a real database

Library subscriptions

8 of the 12 journals

The Library only subscribes to eight of the 12 journals. The databases are searching four titles we don't own, and the full text will not be directly available in those cases.

Accessing texts

Find It @ YorkClicking Find It @ York in a database will check YorSearch to see if we have a copy of what you've found.

If we don't have it...

We can't afford to buy a copy of everything ever. If we don't have what you need, here are some options:

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