Lesson 4

Choosing the Correct Database

So now we have compiled a search strategy and we are ready to search. But there is one more thing to consider before we actually do the search. Which database do we use?

This question is answered by looking at the content of each database and matching the database with the type information needed.

Library CatalogThe holdings or items owned by one library. Includes books, periodical titles, audio-visual and multi-media. Does not include individual periodical article titles.
Union CatalogThe combined catalogs of several or many libraries. Formats are the same as above.
General Article IndexIndexes articles from periodicals on many different topics. Periodicals are usually selected for their academic value or popularity.
Specialized IndexIndexes articles from periodicals in a particular subject area (such as religion) or articles of a particular genre (such as book reviews).

In addition to format and subject, you also need to consider the type of information you need. Is your topic a very recent development or has it been under scholarly discussion for years? The answer to this question will determine the type of information you are looking for and the database you will use. If it is an academic topic, search for scholarly articles and books. If it is a current event, search newspaper indexes and the Internet.

When an event first happens it is news. It might be spread by word of mouth between people who saw it happen and their neighbors. It might then be published in the next day's newspaper. The next week Time or Newsweek might publish an article discussing the event in more detail. A year later a scholar will study the event in its historical and social context and write a paper about it. This paper is then revised and published in a scholarly journal. And two or more years later it is expanded into a book.

This life cycle is not isolated, it is an example. News might be broadcast on television simultaneously with the printing of the newspaper. The event might be published on the Internet more quickly than it spreads by word of mouth. Other events might bypass the news stage if they are deemed unnews-worthy by the media and the first publication of the event might be an article.

Where the information you need fits in the information life cycle can determine the type of database you need to use. Some databases index only one category of information from the life cycle. Others may index items from several categories. Determine exactly what information you need and then look for a database that matches this need.

NOTE: If your search is for information to meet a small assignment, read the assignment carefully to determine what types of sources the professor expects you to use.

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