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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Database Training

Graduate Assistant Orientation: Introduction to Database Searching

Choosing a Database

1. Conduct a thorough reference interview. 

  • Have the patron provide specifics about their question or topic. Get details! 
  • What have they already done? Where have they searched? What search terms/combinations of words did they use? What worked? What didn’t?

2. Break down the topic into individual components. 

  • What level of information does the patron need? 
    • For lower division undergraduates, databases such as Academic Search Ultimate will probably cover the topic sufficiently. 
    • Upper division undergraduates or graduate students may need more detailed, subject-specific information. In this case a discipline-specific database is probably best.
    • Is there a single best database? Is this a topic that crosses disciplines and will need to be searched in more than one database?  
  • How much information does the patron need (i.e. a short overview of a topic or multiple peer-reviewed articles)? This can help you determine what kind of database to begin with. 
  • When do they need the information? If the answer is right now, they will be most successful in a database with full-text sources. If the patron is seeking an overview or just something to get started, a general source or an online reference source may serve them best. 

Tips for Working with Patrons

  • Inexperienced patrons: Start with a database with broad coverage. 
  • Upper division classes in a major: Introduce a core database in the student’s discipline. 
  • Refer to databases by name, not by vendor. 
  • Take advantage of teachable moments.
    • Try to minimize the number of databases, or at least interfaces, introduced.
    • Don't limit to full-text; show how full-text is usually available via links provided.
    • Stress the common features across most databases: multiple search boxes, information included in a list of results, ability to mark/save records, e-mail, etc.
    • Let patrons know that we do not expect them to become experts in the brief time we spend with them!
  • Use departmental library home pages to see what databases are recommended as starting points. 
  • Refer patrons to subject experts as appropriate. Don't feel you must have all the answers!