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About Databases

Tip of the Iceberg (Flickr)

Only 10% of an iceberg can be seen from the surface.

Only 10% of what is available on the surface web is free. Much of the deep web is available is in subscription databases.

If you rely solely on Google, you will miss out on 90% of what's available to you.

What is a database?

A database is a collection of logically related records that can be read by a computer. Computerized address books and online library catalogs are examples of commonly used databases.

What is a record?

Databases are made up of lots of records. For example, in a computerized address book, all the data relating to Sally Apple would make up one record. You cell phones have tiny little contact databases.

What is a field?

Specific information in each record is placed in different fields. The fields in your list might be: name, work phone #, cell phone #, home #, and email. The distinguishing feature of databases on a computer or the web is that each field may be searched and sorted.

What are types of research-oriented databases?

  • bibliographic: containing citations or references to articles or books which you must then locate in another place. These databases are often called indexes or online indexes. In the case of library library catalogs, they are often called OPACs (Online Public Access Catalogs).
  • full-text: containing the entire article from a newspaper, magazine, book, or encyclopedia. In the past, articles were only available in plain text. However, new technologies are making it possible to include the graphics and images. When a database is full-text, usually all words in the article are searchable.
  • numeric: containing numbers, statistics, or dates
  • visual: containing images, photos, etc.

Isn't the Web the biggest and best database?

The Web isn't actually a database because it isn't really organized and consistent.

The first databases which began to appear widely in libraries in the 1980s were automated library catalogs. A record for each book was entered in a database which contained fields for Title, Author, Publisher, Subject, etc. With the development of CD-ROMs and the Internet in the late 1980s and 1990s, many databases of periodical indexes (previously available only in print versions) became available online. That's why you will see that databases don't always cover periods before the mid-1980s. Information before that time was not "born digital." It needs scanning in order to be put online.

Why do I need databases if everything I need can be found Web?

There is a tremendous amount of information that is NOT available on the web. Even if information is delivered via the Web, it may not be free. This is what is known as the "invisible" or "deep" web.

As a college student, you need to know that there are thousands of databases available through libraries. Many databases are extremely expensive and require subscriptions that can cost upwards of $30,000 per year. You will find these in libraries.

Is what I find in a database more reliable than what is found on the Web?

Information is database has at least been selected by editors. For periodical databases, the articles were printed first in an magazine, journal, or newspaper which had editors. Many database add value to the content by organizing it and by adding subjects.

In contrast, anyone can put up anything on the Web. Some of it is edited, selected, and monitored, but much of it is not. And the formats can vary widely so it is sometimes hard to know exactly what it is you have found. See also: Hoax Sites

Which databases are available at the Otis Library?

Otis Library subscribes to (and pays for) many different databases which are geared specifically towards college students. To see the list, click on Databases in the navigation bar.

Are there other databases that I can access elsewhere?

Yes, there are hundreds of available databases. Otis subscribes only to a small handful which should serve you well for most assignments. However, if you are eager to do more in-debth research, try going to the Los Angeles Public Library or Loyola Marymount Univeristy. See also: Other Los Angeles Libraries

Lastly, please keep in mind that not everything is available online. Books are still important sources for your research needs.