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LIS2005 : Using Library Resources

Advanced Electronic Access to Information

Watch: The Peer Review Process and Scholarly vs. Popular

For a better understanding of different types of sources, watch the two videos linked below. 

Scholarly vs. Popular

Peer Review in Five Minutes

Lesson Five: Library Databases

Lesson 5: Library Databases

 Upon completion of this lesson, the student will:
  1. understand the basic features of library databases and
  2. construct and implement effectively-designed search strategies in library databases.

Although the Internet was created to freely distribute information to academics and government users, it may not be the type of information you need or your professor requires for your research project. There will be many times when you will need to use an online catalog or databases available in libraries (or from library Web pages) to locate information in books, ebooks, journals, newspapers, government documents, or other types of resources.

Libraries pay a fee to subscribe to databases. Access is provided to registered students, faculty, or members of the library. Some of these databases may be available only from computers located within libraries; others may be available remotely to registered students, faculty or other library members from any Internet-capable computer. If you are connecting to a database which provides remote access from a computer outside the library, you will be prompted to enter a username and password or a library card number.

Library Databases

Florida Virtual Campus, an organization that supports Florida community college and university libraries, provides access to a number of remotely accessible databases. Students registered for this course (LIS 2004) with a valid community college library card may access library-based databases from any Internet-connected computer by typing in their student ID (no hyphens or spaces, include the letter) and PIN (four digits of birthday, two for the month and two for the day MMDD) when prompted. All students are automatically in the library's system once registered for classes.

In addition, the Florida Electronic Library provides access to a number of full-text databases to residents with a Florida public library bar code number.

The databases accessible from FLVC are at the following address: 

Here is the login screen for Indian River State College:   



Many individual libraries subscribe to additional databases which provide access to information in many subject areas, including social issues, current events, literature, business and financial information, health information and government information. Some libraries have recently begun to offer streaming video and music databases. Check your college or public library's home page or contact a reference librarian for a list of databases available to you.

Database Search Strategies

Just as a previous lesson discussed the importance of understanding the basic features of Internet search engines in order to locate relevant information, this module will discuss a number of the basic features of library databases that are important to understand in order to retrieve relevant information.

Access and Coverage Issues

  • Most databases are available from the Internet. Since libraries purchase databases for the use of their students and faculty, they require usernames and passwords.
  • All subject areas are represented by these databases. Most disciplines have a database specifically dedicated to that discipline. Other databases are more interdisciplinary in nature and provide coverage of all subject areas. It is important to match your subject need with the coverage of the database.
  • Coverage dates of databases vary. Some provide information for 15 to 20 years; others include only the most recent year of information; others may contain information from over 100 years ago. Matching your information need with the time coverage of the database is very important.
  • Databases contain different types of information. The following are typical of the type of information which can be found:
    • full-text periodical articles;
    • full-text encyclopedic/reference sources;
    • full-text books or chapters of books;
    • government/primary documents;
    • citations and/or abstracts of articles or books;
    • images, audio clips or video clips;
    • statistical information;
    • popular information or scholarly information;
  • The update frequency of databases vary. Newspaper databases will typically be updated on a daily basis while an encyclopedia database may be updated on an irregular basis or even a yearly basis. The more current your information need, the more important it is to use a database with a frequent update schedule.
  • When you want to find out the coverage dates or subject of a particular database, click on the "i-ball" information icon next to the database name. You can also click on the database title and then access that database's help file.

Search Types

Most databases permit both subject and keyword searching. It is important to be aware of the differences between the two types of searches in order to search more effectively.

  • Subject headings, descriptors or "controlled vocabulary" are synonyms which refer to a standard set of terms that describe the contents of a record. A subject search allows you to retrieve all records in a database on a particular topic by using a single search term. It is important to know the exact term assigned to your topic in order to retrieve relevant results. Most databases contain a "thesaurus" or an online list of subject headings to help you select the correct search term.
  • Keyword searches provide a great deal of flexibility. In most databases, if you search by keyword, every field (author, title, subject, abstract, text, etc.) of a record will be searched for that word or words.

Keyword Searching or Subject Heading Searching: Which Should You Use?

Keyword Searching: Subject Heading Searching:
is effective when done early in the research process. will often provide more exact information than keyword searches; this type of search avoids the "garbage" that is sometimes retrieved with keyword searches.
can be used to help identify subject headings. can be used across databases. A correct subject heading in one database will often be the same in another.
is effective when looking for very specific information. will often include sub-headings and cross-references to allow you to focus on specific areas of your topic.
is great for finding slang expressions, terminology or cutting edge topics. will retrieve all the information on a subject or topic grouped together in one place.

So, which should you use? Both! A good search strategy is to begin with a keyword search. When you find a source which appears to be "right on the mark", consider doing another search using the subject heading(s) assigned to that source. That way you'll be taking advantage of the positive aspects of both types of searches.

Most databases provide both a simple and an advanced search feature. The advanced search will usually contain pull-down menus which allow you to specify fields to be searched. These fields are typically the subject heading, author, date, journal title, and article title. Depending on the database and the discipline it indexes, additional searchable fields will be available.

Advanced Search Screen

Most databases also have "special features" which are unique to the database. These may range from an ability to search for illustrations, cover stories or peer-reviewed (scholarly) articles to searching for any individual by nationality or ethnicity.

Search Strategies

  • Databases support Boolean Operators, AND, OR and NOT in order to provide narrow, well defined search results. It is important to know what the default operator is if you do not specify one in a search statement. In most databases, either the Boolean AND Operator or a phrase search will be the default search if two or more words are entered. In some databases, though, the Boolean OR Operator is the default; this search would be quite different than a Boolean AND search.

    Example: teenagers AND diet

  • Most databases support the nesting of search terms within parentheses ( ) in search statements containing both the Boolean AND and OR Operator. This allows for putting synonymous terms in sets and allows you to preserve the logic of the search statement. Items in ( ) are found first.

    Example: teenagers AND (diet OR nutrition)

  • Most databases designate a phrase by enclosing the words within quotation marks.

    Example: “road rage”

  • Most databases support field searching so that your search can be limited to one part of a record. This allows you to be very specific in your searching. The following graphic demonstrates a search for "social networking" in the title field using Academic Search Complete's Advanced Search:

Field Searching

  • Truncation is supported by most databases. The truncation symbol may vary but typically, the * or the ? is used to retrieve endings of root words. In addition to truncation, some databases support the use of wildcards to replace letters within a word.

    Example: teen*
    This search would retrieve teen, teenaged, teenager, teenagers, and teens.

    Example: wom?n
    This search would retrieve women and woman.

Remember to check each database's help file to determine these differences.

Display and Retrieval of Results

  • Databases retrieve results in a variety of ways. The two most frequent ranking of results are chronologically by date, with the most recent records added to the database listed first (LIFO or Last In First Out), and by relevancy. In a relevancy ranked search a statistical count is done on the number of times search terms appear in a record, how close search terms are to each other and how prominent search terms are in the record. A record with a search term in the title of the record will be considered more relevant than one in which the search term appears in the body of the text.
  • Many databases provide abstracts or summaries of records as well as the full-text of the record. Take advantage of abstracts; by reading an abstract prior to reading the complete article, you will not only get an overview of the article but in some cases, you will realize that the article is not one which you need to read.
  • Most databases have retrieval capabilities integrated into the database. You will frequently see PRINT, EMAIL and SAVE buttons. Even if you regularly print or email records, it is a good idea to have a back-up of your research on a storage device.

5C: Using Academic Search Complete

Using Academic Search Complete

Academic Search Complete is a resource of scholarly and popular periodicals from most academic areas of study including business, social sciences, humanities, general academic, general science, and education. The features of the database include:

  • full-text coverage for over 5,300 periodicals with some dating back to the 1940s.
  • abstracts and indexing for over 9,300 periodicals
  • an extensive collection of peer-reviewed full-text periodicals
  • Title and Subject Lists of Periodicals in Academic Search Complete (Select Colleges & Universities)
  • illustrations, charts, and graphs for many articles
  • PDF or full-page image format, for many articles

Why Should You Use Academic Search Complete?

Academic Search Complete is an interdisciplinary database; it provides coverage of most areas of academic study. It is an excellent place to begin any research project; for some assignments, you may not need to go further.

How Do You Access Academic Search Complete?

Your local library should have a link from its home page to the various full-text databases, but if not, use these steps.

  • Go to the following URL:
  • Select "Search a Specific Database."
  • Select your institution and input your Borrower ID and PIN. Select "Log-On."
  • You will receive a message that your ID has been validated and you will be redirected to LINCCWeb.
  • From the LINCCWeb Resources Screen, select "Alphabetical."
  • From the alphabetical list of databases, select Academic Search Complete.
  • Select "Connect to Database."

View the following tutorial on Academic Search Complete for an overview of this database, then read the lesson for more details.

The following graphic shows the Advanced search screen of Academic Search Complete:

Advanced Search 

The following graphic shows a a sample keyword search:

Sample Keyword

If your topic concerns the issue of legislation impacting civil liberties in relation to terrorism, a typical search in Academic Search Complete might be like this keyword search which uses phrase searching (the default two-word search in this database), truncation and the Boolean AND Operator. This search also limits the results to full text. Another option would be to also limit the search to scholarly, peer-reviewed journals. This database looks for the search terms in the title, author, abstract, and source field when Default Fields are used.

The following graphic shows a sample results screen:

Sample Results


120 articles were retrieved in the search. The articles are arranged in reverse chronological order. Full bibliographic information is provided for each article. To look at the actual article, click on either the title link, the Full Text link or the PDF link.

The following graphic shows some abstracts, which summarize the article content:

The abstracts will help you identify which articles will be most relevant; they may also provide you with alternative keywords for your topic or may help you narrow down a broad topic.

The following graphic shows the full text of an article in PDF format:



 The same article can be viewed in HTML format:

HTML Article 

Within the full text of the article, the search terms you used will be highlighted. The citation information, which you will need for documentation purposes, is provided with the full text.

The following graphic shows the navigation and retrieval buttons:


From any screen in the database, you may go back to the main search screen and refine or modify your search. You can also start a new search by clicking on "New Search." While viewing the full text of an article, you can go back to the list of records by clicking on "Result List." Retrieval options (print, e-mail or save) are indicated on each screen. Single articles or multiple articles in folders can be retrieved.

Academic Search Complete (and all other EBSCO databases) allows users to save searches. Saved searches can be retrieved at a later date and executed to retrieve additional citations. Alerts are searches set up to be executed automatically according to a user specified interval. Users will be notified by email when new articles satisfy the search. Instructions for creating search and journal alerts can be found in the following tutorial.

5D: Google Scholar

Google Scholar

Google Scholar ( can link to full-text articles within many of your library's subscription databases. This is an exciting development that can help one, as Sir Isaac Newton once said, "stand on the shoulders of giants" to see above the ever-increasing data smog while discovering scholarly resources that might otherwise be hidden within library databases.

Although Google Scholar's search interface is easy to use and extremely popular, it is not the be-all and end-all of quality research. For example, Google Scholar does not have sophisticated searching functionality that is found within library databases nor does it link to every library database. Nonetheless, Google Scholar, if used properly, can become a great discovery tool that can guide users to quality and frequently hidden library resources.

Below is an example of how Google Scholar "sees" and connects to Indian River State College library databases.

Visit and click on Settings above Google's logo.

Scholar Preferences 

In the Settings screen you can enter in the name of the library you would like to search. In the Library Links field type in 'Indian River State College'. Save your preferences and begin your search.

We will search for the phrase "separation of powers". Below is an example of our results.

Scholar Results

After clicking on the Find Text @ IRSC link, another page will display that provides options for locating the full text of the article. Next, click on one of the Go buttons.

IRSC Find Text

After clicking on one of the Go buttons, enter your Borrower ID and PIN. 

Now the article's citation will display. Select the full-text option and you are well on your way to reading the article.

One File Results


Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 License

Copyright © 1997-2009 Florida Community College, Learning Resources Standing Committee. Last revised May 2009 by the LIS 2004 Course Revision Committee.


Now that you have been introduced to the databases, it's time to find an article! 

Using the database of your choice, find a peer-reviewed article on your future career, and create a citation the style of your choice MLA, APA, and provide the information below. Remember, complete sentences and proper grammar are required. Email your completed assignment to

  • Name of database used *
  • List keywords (and any connecting words like "and", "or" or "not") that brought you to you results. *
  • List limiters, if any, used to refine your search.
  • Provide a complete MLA/APA citation for your article.
  • Summarize the article in 150-250 words and explain its relevance to your future career.
  • Evaluate the article's credibility, reliability, and currency. (150-200 words) HINT: Include information about the author's credentials, the academic journal it was published in, and any methods or experimental designs included.

Logging into the IRSC Databases