Why You Should Use Your School’s Databases
At the risk of sounding like every library tour, First Year Experience course and research methods professor, let me tell you why you should take advantage of your school’s digital databases.
1. They’ve got solid, full-text academic sources
Ask a 21st century student to research something and we’ll Google it. While that’s fine for quick answers to simple questions, teachers get less and less tolerant of questionable academic sources as courses get more difficult. The website that passed as a source in English Composition 1001 just won’t cut it once you’re doing research for upper-division classes in your major.
There are plenty of academic sources that can be found via Google and Google Scholar, but many of them will give you only the abstract or first page of a source. Using your school’s databases means that you can check the “Peer-Reviewed” and “Full-Text” boxes and instantly see only the results that are usable.
2. They’re up to date
Many a bookworm prefers to gather a stack of print materials and check them out of the library. Using databases instead of or along with books and periodicals from the library not only reduces the back strain caused by hauling 16 sources to and from the residence halls, it also provides you with the latest research. This is especially valuable for those studying medicine and the social sciences.
3. Easy to search, easy to cite
We’ve already discussed how much easier it is to find credible, full-text sources in databases versus. through Google. Plug in keywords from your lecture notes or textbook, or the authors of studies you discussed in class, and you’ll find an abundance of sources you can use.
Once you’ve found a source, taking notes is as simple as copy and pasting or summarizing useful passages into your word processor of choice. Most databases have a built-in citation generator, so you can build your references page and footnotes while you’re researching instead of having to insert all of it after your paper is done.
When you find a solid, helpful source, looking at its references is a great strategy for finding more good sources. Using a database makes this even easier, since you can click to follow links or copy and paste titles (as opposed to print sources, where you have to physically go find the source). Plus, using the database to find those sources makes it more likely that you’ll be able to access them once you get there.
5. Graduate school
Many parts of the research process—outlining, learning the terminology, citations, style manuals—can be a pain. If you’re considering going to graduate school, pay attention to how to do all of these things now. Once you start a master’s or doctorate, you’ll be expected to conduct and present research in a manner consistent with the style guide used by your field. You will almost certainly have to use databases all the time, so save future you some grief and figure it out now.
Ask a school librarian and you’ll find that higher learning institutions invest a lot of your tuition in the databases they provide. Much like for magazines and newspapers, schools pay subscription fees to have access to the latest and greatest content. Make good use of that content; after all, you’re paying for it.