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Information Literacy Graduates: Introduction Databases


In this part of the information literacy course we are introducing databases. We have added a separate chapter on databases because they are an essential tool for finding scholarly information.

There are three types of databases available at the University of Groningen Library:

  • bibliographic databases
  • full-text journal databases
  • full-text book databases

We will go into each type and how to use them. With examples. We will look into Google Scholar as well.

Learning outcomes

After studying this chapter you will understand the different search systems available in the University of Groningen Library and how to use them.

You will also be able to select the relevant search systems for your specific research question.

Databases of the Royal Library / Koninklijke bibliotheek

Koninklijke Bibliotheek / Royal Library membership allows online access to all their digital collections and services. 

For €7,50 a year for students (more information).

Controlled vocabulary and precision

Bibliographic databases use controlled vocabulary. To get better results they use a fixed set of subject terms which are set by an indexer. This specialist decides which subjects are important enough to be tagged, and uses the standardized terminology (= controlled terminology) of the bibliography.

Controlled terminology has many advantages in searching. When you perform a search with an index term found in the subject index you will only retrieve publications where the indexer decided that the subject was important in the publication. Controlled terminology reduces the number of non-relevant hits. It helps you search with more precision.

Bibliographic databases use controlled terminology. Full-text journal databases and Google Scholar do not. When you search these you are searching with keywords; natural language terms that you choose yourself. Your search will result in less precision.

Bibliographic databases often have a list of the subject terms they use: a thesaurus. You can browse the thesaurus to find the subject terms.

Using controlled vocabulary in your search

If you want to use the controlled vocabulary of the database in your search, you first have to know which terms are part of the controlled vocabulary. The best way to find them is:

  • Start with a keyword search, using your own words or phrases that describe your topic
  • Browse the results and look closely at the records of some relevant results
  • Look at the Subject or Descriptor field. Here you will see the controlled terminology

Databases, records and fields

Library databases contain information about publications, and sometimes the full-text as well. A database has a record for every publication. This record usually consists of the following fields: 

  • Author
  • Title
  • Year of publication
  • Place of publication
  • Publisher
  • In case of a journal article: the title of the journal in which it is published
  • In case of an article in an edited volume, the title of the volume
  • Pagination

These elements are used for the identification of the publication.

Bibliographic databases in particular have extra elements describing the subject of the publication.

  • Abstract
  • Subject terms
  • Information about other content characteristics:
    • Publication type (journal article, book, chapter of a book, book review, etc.)
    • Peer reviewed (yes or no)
    • Language of the publication

Relevant databases in your specific field of interest

The University Library has developed a set of subject guides which list a selection of important literature, per subject. This is a good starting point for your research.

Click here to find an overview of all available subject guides.