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Library Research Level 3

Choosing and Using Specialized Databases

Books are relatively easy to find in a library catalog. But because so much content is published in periodical literature (journals, magazines, newspapers), there are times when its better to limit your searching to smaller and more specialized databases. Subject-specific databases focus on a single academic discipline or a group of related disciplines. Some examples of subject-specific databases at Olympic College Libraries are:

  • Anthrosource (anthropology)
  • Business Source Complete (business)
  • CINAHL (nursing and allied health)

Some databases have a broader focus, but have areas that are more specialized. ScienceDirect, for example, covers scholarly content in the sciences and social sciences but doesn't cover much humanities. JSTOR covers a range of scholarly content in the humanities and social sciences, but doesn't have up-to-date science content. It is a good idea to check both specialized and more general scholarly databases when doing in-depth research on a topic. 

EXAMPLE: The topic "dreams and culture" might be researched in AnthroSource. But you will also find scholarly coverage of this topic in ScienceDirect (sciences and social sciences) or JSTOR (humanities and social sciences). 

Keywords and Subject Headings

Be aware that different databases may use different subject headings or keywords to describe a topic, especially in more specialized databases (e.g. medical databases). Look for subject headings and new keywords when you find relevant search results and then use those words in new searches. It can also help to consult subject-specific dictionaries and encyclopedias to build more specialized keywords. Good searches usually use a combination of both keywords and at least parts of subject headings! 

You can log onto our 24/7 Ask A Librarian live chat to get assistance with choosing a database, or you can figure it out on your own by thinking about what discipline your topic is related to. Each database in our A-Z List has a brief description to guide your choices. 

Using a database

Databases will look a little different from each other, but there are often sidebars or top menus, Advanced Search options, filters, citation assistance, and other tools. Some database companies, such as EBSCOhost, offer several different databases (CINAHL, Business Source Complete, Academic Search Complete, etc), but all the databases have the same look and feel (which can be confusing). 

Here is a tutorial for using the scholarly database, JSTOR: