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Information Literacy History: Types of databases

Bibliographic databases

A bibliographic database is a database with references to literature. Just as library catalogues they contain descriptions of publications. Bibliographic databases are designed as a tool to find scholarly literature.

Their content is selected with this purpose in mind. Bibliographic databases are usually specialised in a specific field of study. They try to cover the most important journals in their fields. Bibliographic databases publish the lists of journals that are covered on their website. The public can see which scholarly journals are covered by a bibliographic database.

The Univerity of Groningen Library has a license on the Historical Abstracts which is the most important bibliographic database for the field of History. We will also introduce other bibliographic databases that can be very useful to students in International Relations.

Bibliographies have excellent search facilities and are the best tool to find publications about a subject with precision.

For more information on bibliographic databases go to the similarly named page in this chapter.


In this chapter on databases as a source for finding publications we will also discuss Google Scholar. Earlier in this course we explained that the 'regular' Google only offers access to a very small number of articles and books published in the academic world. Therefore it is not a good source to use in your literature search.

Google Scholar is Google's answer to this problem. Google tries to persuade academic publishers to give them access to their publications so that they may be included in their database. Google only uses the full-text to compare the terms used there with your search terms. If a match is found, the publication will appear in your list of search results. However, it does not automatically follow that you will then have access to the full-text of the article. If the article is freely available on the internet Google Scholar provides a link to the pdf, but if it is not, Google Scholar does not give access to the user. You only have access if the library has a license to the journal in which the article was published.

Google Scholar

Google Scholar uses the bibliography at the end of an article for counting citations. When you look up a publication in Google Scholar, you can see what other publications have cited it. This is called citation searching. Citation searching gives information on the popularity of an article, but it is also a means of finding other recent publications on the same topic.

Google Scholar does not use standardised keywords. It also does not have the advanced search options that bibliographic databases offer. Precise searching is therefore not possible in Google Scholar.

For more information on Google Scholar go to the similarly named page in this chapter.

Full-text journal databases

In the chapter on journal articles you have learned that most academic journals are published electronically. The library has licenses for many e-journal collections. Some e-journal collections simply contain all journals published by a particular publisher. Oxford Journals is published by Oxford University Press. Cambridge Journals by Cambridge University Press. Taylor & Francis Online by Taylor & Francis imprints, such as Routledge.

Sometimes other suppliers publish or re-publish the contents of digitized journals: an example of this is a huge database of full-text journals called JSTOR. STOR started out as a non-profit organisation which digitized older issues of journals, which had originally been published in print. Later JSTOR also offered access to recent issues of academic journals and currently they supply e-books as well. 

Although full-text journal databases do not have the advanced search options that bibliographic databases offer, they can still be used as a source for literature research. Mainly because of the large number of journal titles they contain. It is possible to search through the full text of the articles. Most bibliographic databases do not have the full text of articles and consequently do not offer this possibility.

Searching through the full text of articles or books is only useful if you use highly specific search terms. For instance, searching for the name of a person or for a specific event works well. However, if you are searching for a general term such as American foreign policy you will get far too many results.

When you are searching for a specific journal article in SmartCat the links to all databases owned by the University Library of Groningen offering access to the full text of the article will be presented. In many cases more than one full-text database contains the article you are looking for.

For more information on full-text journal databases please go the Full-text databases page in this chapter.

Full-text book collections

In the chapter Choosing information sources - books you have learned that the library offers access to a vast number of e-books. Some e-books collections are published by academic publishers. Oxford Scholarship Online contains books published by Oxford University Press. Cambridge Books Online contains books published by Cambridge University Press and Palgrave Connect contains books published by Palgrave/Macmillan. 

These collections contain a selection of the e-books published by the publisher. Handbooks are generally not part of these collections. The library buys collections of e- handbooks and e-reference works as well. For History the Cambridge Histories Online and the Oxford Handbooks collections are important. 

Other suppliers also offer access to e-books collections. Very large e-books collections are available for sale, containing books from all sorts of publishers. The University of Groningen Library has licenses for the following e-books collections: Ebook Central Academic Complete and EBSCO ebooks Academic Collection. These providers buy up the rights to these e-books from their original publishers. JSTOR which initially only published e-journals, now also offers access to e-books.

Occasionally an e-book is made available by several full-text book databases. For instance, when you search for a specific e-book in SmartCat, you will see the links to all databases of the University of Groningen Library which offer access to the e-book.

For more information about e-books at the University of Groningen Library.

For more information about full-text book databases in this Information literacy course, go to the chapter on Full-text databases.