What are Subject Databases? - Definition & Types

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  • 0:00 Subject Database Defined
  • 1:08 Bibliographic Databases
  • 3:09 Subject Databases vs. Internet
  • 4:17 Creation of Subject Databases
  • 5:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Michelle DeSalvo

Michelle has been an academic librarian for over twenty years. She has a Master’s Degree in Library Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In this lesson, you will learn how subject databases can benefit your research. You will also get a sneak peek into how subject databases work behind the scenes.

Subject Databases Defined

Have you ever had to research a topic for work or school and you received thousands of Internet results? Did you know that there is a more efficient and effective way to search? A subject database is a collection of specialized information with a narrow focus. The best part of a subject database is that it can help refine your search results, saving you lots of time.

In the corporate world, subject databases, such as Dun & Bradstreet, are used daily by millions of business professionals. Businesses pay for the databases and they can be costly. But what if you do not work for a business? How can you get access to the subject databases in your field?

Your library can help. Libraries provide access to books, magazines, and a host of other resources and services. Government, public, and school libraries provide subject databases just for your research. Through subject databases you can research everything from Ancestry (genealogy) to Zinio (online magazines).

Bibliographic Databases

One type of subject database is a bibliographic database, which is any subject database that contains information and references to library materials. If you're a college student, your academic library may have bibliographic databases that have been hand-selected for your major or field of study. Let's say that you are studying to be a teacher. The ERIC database has all education-related information.

One of the best features of ERIC and other subject databases is that they contain a controlled vocabulary, which is an organized list of terminology used to index and retrieve information. This tool helps you find the best and most appropriate terms for your search, which are listed in a resource called a thesaurus. Subject databases for every field exist. Many have the full text of the journal article available for you to view, print, or even e-mail.

You might be pleasantly surprised about what types of material subject database libraries have. Some libraries now have streaming music and video as part of their subject databases package. eBook packages are popular as well.

Using a subject database can be beneficial for your research. The first advantage is that assistance is available from a librarian. Be sure to look for the ''ask a librarian'' button with your library name or logo, where a real librarian is able to help you with your research. In many cases, your search will be magically e-mailed to the librarian so they can best help you.

In addition to research help, library subject databases are streamlined. They often lack distracting advertisements. Since the databases require a subscription through your library, there's no need for ads. The subject databases are like a gift card, which has been pre-paid for you by your library. All you need to do is log in with your username and password, known as the authentication process. Once your identity is verified, you will be given the 'green light' or authorization to use the resource.

Subject Databases vs. Internet

Although many of us use the Internet daily, have you ever wondered how it really works? When we contrast the Internet with subject databases, we can get a clearer picture of how they both work. Subject databases are orderly. The databases contain records, which then contain fields. The Internet lacks this kind of structure. Tools such as Internet spiders crawl the web to gather the information for search engines. In addition, subject database are known for their quality information because, in a subject database, all of the information has been specifically selected. In fact, only published books and articles are included. On the Internet, anyone can self-publish.

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