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Hope Library Guides

Peer Assisted Learning: Hope College Sample Training Exercises: Exercise #9

This is a sample of the training exercises designed for the first year of our new training scheme. The first semester the exercises were housed almost exclusively within the LibGuide. The second semester we began migrating content into our Content Manag

Exercise #9 - Exploring Databases

Hope Library Databases

Hope Libraries subscribes to or own almost 200 different research tools.  These are a variety of databases ranging from general to subject specific, from ones that provide a sampling of a range of different kinds of publications, to ones that specialize in a particular type or even specific publication. 

To help our users navigate the many resources that we have, we provide organized lists of databases by subject area.  Here we highlights the databases that are particularly helpful when researching in a given discipline.

Some Definitions....

So what does database mean, exactly?  We throw this word around a lot.  Here are a few definitions to consider:

  • "A computerized system for storing information in a structured, easily accessible form. Typically, a database consists of a number of similar records." Penguin Dictionary of Science
  • "A structured set of data held in computer storage and typically accessed or manipulated by means of specialized software." Oxford English Dictionary

So, as you can see, a database broadly defined is a structured collection of something.  In the library world, then, a database is a structured collection of research resources, or information about those resources.

Databases come in two big different forms: full-text and citation.  A full text database, like Jstor or ProQuest Historical Newspapers: New York Times, contains the full text of every document.  When you search them, you are typically searching the full text of everything contained in the database, unless you say otherwise.  A citation database, like Web of Science or MLA Bibliography just contains the citations (and sometimes abstracts) of the resources, and you need to look elsewhere to find the full text.  When you search them, you are just searching within the descriptive information about that item, not the full text.  What's the advantage of a citation database?  It allows you to search much more exhaustively on a topic because it contains information on resources that aren't necessarily held by our library.  A lot of our databases are a mixture of the two, providing information on some resources only as citations while also having some full text integrated in.  When a resource is just a citation, we use 360Link/ "Full text options" links to check for full text, and, if we don't have it, use InterLibrary Loan or MeLCat to get it.

How do I pick a database?

General tools are always a good place to start, but they may eventually run dry because they aren't ask exhaustive.  At this point, think about the research topic in terms of discipline.  What scholars do you think are likely researching this topic?  Select the "Databases" tab and choose that discipline from the dropdown Subject List.  We have listed the databases that we think are most helpful for research in this disciplinary area, with the best one usually at the top of the list. Read the descriptions for more information on the tool!

Not sure what is a good disciplinary fit?  Ask a librarian, and we will make suggestions.  Sometimes we have to use a little trial and error as well, so these are good topics to work together on.

What do you find in databases? 

Traditionally when we think about databases, we think about them as a place to find articles.  This is a decent general way to think about them (as opposed to a catalog like HopeCat, which we use to find books).  However, as you look more closely at different databases you will find that you can use them to find a lot of different things depending on the database: journal articles, newspaper articles, images, streaming music, streaming video, primary sources, book chapters.  As you search an unknown tool, keep an eye on what it is you are searching exactly.  

Exercise #9

Part #1

You will be given 5 general topics.  Fill out this worksheet, in which you will be asked to select 2 possible databases to use for this research and answer a series of questions about your exploration within the tool.

Part #2

Go to the library's A-Z list that shows every database we have.  Select two databases that intrigue you.  Go into them, explore them a bit, and report back on the following (included in the worksheet for part 1)

1. What does this database appear to specialize it?  (topic, material type, discipline...)

2. What kinds of research questions might it be a good tool for?

Email your completed worksheet to your mentor.

DUE November 6th