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Database Search Tips

This guide provides general techniques and tips to help you search databases more effectively.

Why should I search the Library's databases?

The library's databases are different from your favorite internet search engine.  They allow you to search and access content that search engines like Google can't, and typically require a paid subscription.  Riley-Hickingbotham Library provides access to a multitude of databases, allowing all OBU students access to hundreds of thousands of high-quality resources to help you research.

You can search these databases anytime and anywhere by accessing them through the Library's Web site.  These resources  work a little different than typical search engines, but with a little practice, you'll find they are much more powerful and helpful for finding scholarly content.  This guide will teach you how to search databases effectively, allowing you to research more efficiently.

What is a database?

Databases are similar to search engines, but instead of taking you to freely available websites that could be published by anyone (including people who may not know what they are talking about), our library's databases give you access to hundreds of thousands of articles from journals, magazines, and newspapers.   Most of these are not available freely on the internet...their publishers require readers to subscribe. The databases themselves are not free, either. In fact, the library spends thousands of dollars in subscription fees every year to give students, faculty, and staff access to these high-quality information resources. We are not paying for the entire world to access them, however, which is why you need to be logged into campus to access library databases.

One thing to keep in mind is that databases are not all created equally.

  • Some contain journal, magazine, and/or newspaper articles, while others have citations for book chapters, conference proceedings, reports, and other materials.
  • There are subject-specific databases, which contain articles that only focus on scholarship in a specific discipline, like psychology or history.
  • There are also multidisciplinary databases, which contain articles that are relevant to a wide variety of subjects.
  • Some databases include abstracts that summarize the articles for you to help you to quickly determine whether they will be useful for your research. And while many databases contain full text articles, others only provide you with citations, which let you know that the articles exist, but you’ll still need to find them somewhere else.
  • Databases can also look pretty different from one another because the library buys access to them from different vendors.
  • Each database covers different sources, so it’s generally a good idea to explore two or more databases to get a better sense of the information that is out there on your topic.

Although databases often look different, functionally they are very similar, so learning to use one database will equip you with the skills you’ll need to search successfully in other databases as well.

Which database should I choose?

The library subscribes to dozens of individual databases, to ensure that you can find information and resources on a wide range of topics. To see all of our databases, visit the A-Z Databases page on the library's website.  You can learn a little more about each database and sort them by subject or vendor (the company that produces it).

Not sure which database is best for you?

  • For articles, EBSCOhost, ProQuest, or JSTOR are good places to start.
  • For general reference, try Credo Reference.  It contains hundreds of full-text, scholarly, electronic reference resources.
  • To see which databases are best suited to your subject, visit the library's LibGuides.  

You can always ask a librarian for a recommendation as well!


See Database Search Tips for effective search techniques.

Explore these tutorials to learn best practices for searching individual databases.