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Compare Databases and Search Engines

Databases

What is a database?

  • Library databases allow you to efficiently search for published information such as magazine, journal, and newspaper articles. Library databases can be general (all disciplines) or discipline-specific (e.g. a psychology database).

Why use a database?

  • Reliable – Many articles found in library databases have undergone a peer review process and are generally more reliable than information found on the Internet. Additionally, databases provide all the information you need to evaluate a source for credibility (such as author name, publication details, and a summary).
  • Relevant – Library databases allow you to customize your search to get the most relevant results. You can search using keywords, discipline-specific terminology, subject headings, and descriptors. You can also search by author, title, and limit your results using various criteria (date, source type, etc.).
  • Accessible – Databases often provide access to the full-text of an article so you do not need to go to the library to retrieve it in person. Additionally, database access is purchased by libraries for its patrons which allows you to access otherwise pricey information at no charge.

What databases does the Undergraduate Library recommend for getting started?

  • Academic Search Ultimate – Great general database to find articles on most topics.
  • Find Articles Guide – Need a more focused database? Find a list of the Undergraduate Library’s top-recommended discipline-specific databases here.

Search Engines

What is a search engine?

  • A search engine, such as Google or Yahoo!, uses computer algorithms to search the Internet and identify items that match the characters and keywords entered by a user.

Why use a search engine?

  • Search engines are useful for finding information produced by governments, organizations, groups, and individuals. Examples of reliable information you can find through a search engine include freely available statistics published by a government agency or a freely available article published by a reputable news outlet.
  • Note: It is more challenging to narrow results effectively, find relevant material, and assess the legitimacy of information in your search results when using a search engine.

How do I know when I should use a search engine and when I should use a database?

  • It depends on what type of information you are hoping to find and how you plan to use it. If you want credible, scholarly articles, you will have more success finding relevant sources in a library database free of charge. If you want Census data, it is more efficient to find that through a search engine that guides you to the appropriate government website.