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Searching the Scientific Literature: Databases

A general guide and portal to searching the scientific literature at IUP and beyond.

Library Databases

Scientists need not only a way to publish their research to make it available to others (and to protect their claim to their discoveries), but also a way to find information that has been published.

Print Indexes

The first concerted efforts to index new publications in scientific journals (and in all journals) were printed indexes: these were effectively "paper databases," organizing citations to articles in huge series of books. These indexes were published in a series, with each new volume covering recent publications.

The printed indexes were a major advance in information organization and searching, but they still required the researcher to pore through many volumes of work in an effort to locate research crucial to his or her own success.

The Digital Age

With the advent of the computer age, however, these printed indexes could take advantage of digital tools to search, filter, and retrieve information much more quickly and efficiently. Indeed, the most common way now to search through the literature on any topic is to use a database.

A database is a collection of information that can be searched, and from which the individual pieces of information inside can be retrieved. Though technically, a printed index is a database, today when we say "database" we mean an electronic database.

Databases consist of numerous records, each of which describes some thing. Each record is in turn composed of numerous fields, which correspond to a single bit of information about the thing - such as a title, or an author, or the date of publication. When you search a database, you are searching in the fields of the various records, looking for items that match.

Bibliographic Databases

A bibliographic or subject database is a database that contains records about articles, books, and other publications. These records typically correspond to a discrete individual publication - an article, a chapter in a book, or a dissertation, for example. Each record will contain information about that publication, typically the author, the title, the subject information, an abstract, and so forth. When you are searching for articles to help you write a research paper, you're going to want to use a bibliographic database.

The IUP Libraries offers students and faculty access to hundreds of subject databases containing millions of article records. Searching in these databases will help you retrieve articles relevant to the topics you are studying. The links below will help you locate databases appropriate to your topic. The first link will give you the full, searchable list of databases IUP Libraries offers; the other links let you jump directly to a topic area.

General Search Databases

The following links will connect you to databases that cover a broad range of topics in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences. They are not focused on a particular topic, but are often good starting points when beginning research, or to get a sense of the "landscape" of the literature on a topic. Each database has its strengths and weaknesses, and I strongly encourage you to experiment with them to see what you can find!

Science Librarian

Chris Clouser's picture
Chris Clouser
Stapleton Library 102B

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