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Library Research Guides

Environ 211: Social Sciences and Environmental Problems

Guide for Professor Zint's ENV 211 class

What are databases?

Databases are collections of data, organized in ways that help people find the data that they need.  The Mirlyn catalog is a kind of a database.  Old fashioned library card catalogs could be considered databases, and Wikipedia is a database of encyclopedic information.  The type of databases that we will talk about today emphasize the collection and organization of scholarly articles, and are sometimes referred to as "article indexes".

Databases can be loosely divided into two types: generalist and subject-specific.

Generalist databases cover a broad range of subjects, so are terrific places to find materials for interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary research questions. They are not the best resource for every information need, but they usually offer at least some information on any subject.

Subject-specific (or discipline-specific) databases pull together data for specific fields or disciplines. Subject-specific databases have less breadth, but are valuable because they offer greater depth of information on a given subject.  PsycINFO is an example of a subject-specific database devoted to psychology and related fields. Subject-specific databases may also use controlled vocabularies appropriate to a discipline that allow users to construct searches with more precise results.

Database Searching Basics

The databases that we will demo index and abstract scholarly articles.  Many of them also index other types of information, including news articles, dissertations and theses, conference proceedings, books, and more.

  • Though databases will look different from one another, they work in similar ways and you will find that many of the same features apply.
  • Search phrases in quotes to get more precise results
  • Use an asterisk (*) character after a truncated word to search for all longer versions of that word (govern* searches govern, governs, governor, etc)
  • Clicking on an article title will usually bring you to a page with more information, including an abstract, of the article.
  • The MGet It button can be clicked to find full-text resources 
  • The better your search terms, the better your search results
  • Most databases have a "Help" key in the upper right-hand corner of the page that will provide more information about how the database works

Dissertations and Theses Databases

Generalist Databases

Social Science Databases

Environmental Science Databases


Who or what organizes information in databases?

What is an abstracter? What is an indexer?

What is an article index?

When is it a good idea to use generalist databases?

When are subject-specific databases preferrable?


What level of information do article indexes provide?

Should I limit my search results to full-text when I am looking for the best scholarly articles?

Why or why not?