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What is a Database?

Information Literacy Research Databases

You will use many resources when searching for information including databases, search engines, and the library catalog. A database is a searchable but closed set of records. This means that the content of a database is limited to the materials that have been selected and entered into the database, usually following a strict set of criteria. Content within a database is organized, often so you can search by subject or by keywords in all of the text of each item in the database. A database's content doesn't reflect the holdings of any specific library, but is a collection of high quality scholarly resources compiled by editors and made available through vendors (EBSCOHost, ProQuest, etc.). A search engine accesses content that is not organized and that has not been edited or scrutinized for its information value.

A search engine scours the web looking for whatever is out there regardless of the quality or information value of the item. This is why you might have several million hits using a search engine yet find none of the information is helpful or useful.

The library catalog is a database, but it contains only the resources available in a given library. Like a research database, a library catalog is a closed set of records. The information entered into the library catalog is limited to brief descriptions of the items such as its title, the author, where the item was published, and perhaps a table of contents. Thus, a full text search in the library catalog is limited to the brief descriptions of the items, whereas a database enables searching the full text of all articles within the database.