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Research Guides

Information Literacy & Library Research: Using Databases

Information literacy is the ability to know when information is needed and to be able to identify, locate and evaluate, and then legally and responsibly use and share that information.

Why Databases?

Databases are organized collections of related information. Every database contains only certain types and amounts of information such as:

  • Specific kinds of documents (e.g., journals, magazines, books, software)
  • Certain subject areas (e.g., sociology, music, chemistry)
  • Certain time periods (e.g., current, 1990 to present, historic)
  • Records available in several languages
  • Certain publication types (e.g., scholarly, popular, newspapers)
  • Certain amounts of information available (e.g., whole article or just a brief description and abstract)

Note for INFO 1010:

For the purpose of grading consistency, the Module 3 assignment in INFO 1010 will use Academic Search Ultimate. This is an example of a general database that has a little bit of everything, so there should be something for all. For your ENGL 2010 papers, you might want to check out other subject-specific databases (see the "Subject Databases" tab in the next section for more). These databases are carefully curated collections that can help you find the sources you need to complete your INFO 1010 assignments, as well as your ENGL 2010 paper. Ask your INFO 1010 instructor about subject-specific databases that relate to your paper topic if you'd like to try one out.


Academic Search Ultimate is the most basic of the databases, and is generally a good place to start since it is a catch all database that searches over 10,000 articles from journals ranging all over the disciplines. This is why it is the database taught in the Information Literacy class. However it doesn't have everything, or else we wouldn't need the other databases at all.

Academic Search Ultimate is a catch all, general database, which means it has a little bit of everything. Emphasis on little bit. It's really good for starting research or doing more general topics. It can help point research in the right direction, but might not have enough on a given subject to be the only database used in the research process.

Finding the Database

screenshot of the search box and links on the library's website where the Find a Database link is located.The easiest way to access any of the databases is to go to the Find a Database link under the "Search the Library" search bar. This brings you to the Databases page. Academic Search Ultimate is conveniently on this page, listed under Popular Databases, but if it ever isn't, you can use the View A-Z list of all Sherratt Library databases to find it. Remember the list is arranged alphabetically, so it will be near the top of the list.

screenshot of the A-Z Databases link on the Databases page of the library's website.

Using the Database

The great thing about getting to know Academic Search Ultimate is that all databases in the EBSCOhost database platform look alike, the only difference will be the content.

The first screen seen will be the advanced search screen.

The advanced search screen of Academic Search Ultimate.

You can enter all your search terms in the first bar, separated by the Boolean operators, or you can used the advanced search bar options which have the Boolean operators built in.

The limiter options in Academic Search Ultimate.Refining Results

Once you have your results, you can use the limiters on the side to make them even more relevant.

You can limit by source type, date, and whether the articles are full text or peer reviewed, etc.

You can also use the subject limiter to refine your topic more, by picking any of the relevant subject terms. You can click on more options to see the full list of subjects. These are the subjects being talked about in the results you currently have.

You can choose as many as you want, but if you select them one at a time, the database will limit them one at a time, making some results not available since each subject is limited within the current results.

A picture of potential subjects to help refine the search


If your topic is something that needs more than a general database such as Academic Search Ultimate or Google Scholar can give you, it is best to use a subject specific database. These databases focus on specific topics and will have more journals devoted to their topics, giving you more information than you would get from a general database, that has a little bit on every topic.

Finding the Right Databases

screenshot of the Search the Library search box on the library's website where the Find a Database link is located.                     To get to the subject specific databases, you follow the same route by clicking Find a Database, just like you would to get to Academic Search Ultimate, but you have to follow that second link to the View A-Z list of all Sherratt Library databases. The biggest difference is that you will then want use the drop menus at the top to limit to a specific subject from the All Subjects list. This will give you the options of databases that are focused on your subject.

screenshot of the A-Z list of databases link on the Databases page of the library's website.

The example below is the list of Nursing databases, chosen from the list of subjects.

You might notice that Academic Search Ultimate is still one of the options, because it does cover this topic a bit. It will usually give it's best guess as to which databases would be the most helpful, if you do have a specifically nursing topic. However, if you chose the subject of nursing since it was the closes to your general health science question, those best bests might not be the best for you.

There will usually be a subject guide on the left side, where the librarian over the subject has put together tips and tools to help your research within the subject easier. It's a good idea to check those out.

the subject list of nursing databases.

Using the Databases

Using a subject specific database is no different then using a general one. The biggest difference will be how many results you will get within that subject. Most of the SUU databases will be EBSCO, and so will look EXACTLY like Academic Search Ultimate. Others will look different, but will have the same basic features: a search bar, Boolean operators, and limiter options.

The searching and limiter options might be called different things, but once you start using them, it is generally easy to find the equivalent features and to use them in the same way.

A picture showing examples of different nursing databases, including CINAHL, BioOne, and PubMed.