Conducting Library Research

Databases and Electronic Indexes

Databases and Electronic Indexes are collections of information stored on CD-ROM's, the Internet or commercial Web sites generally accessible only through a subscription. The information they contain is organized into electronic fields, records and files so that a computer program-or database management system-can easily find requested items. Their organization is much like that of a filing cabinet:

Some databases provide information that is primarily numeric, such as government census data. Other databases, like the Modern Language Association's MLA Online, contain primarily textual information. Hypertext databases, on the other hand, will contain a wide variety of electronically digitized information ranging from word documents and photographic images to audio and video feeds.

When a database presents information about other publications, such as books, periodicals, or government documents, it is called an electronic index. They are the electronic equivalent of print-format indexes-like the Periodical Index-found in the library Reference Room.

You'll find three broad categories of databases and electronic indexes in most college or university libraries. These range from general indexes, such as the Reader's Guide to Periodic Literature, to specialized indexes and government databases.

There are a wide range of electronic databases on the Internet. Some of them are free. Most, however, are available only by subscription. All university libraries pay licensing fees to a wide variety of selected databases in order to provide students, faculty and staff with the necessary access.

These licensing agreements often only allow access through library computers or those connected to the campus network. Contact your library to determine which databases you can access via the Internet.

Here are two of the most useful databases available without a subscription:

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Introduction