Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Blog Post #5 (Databases for Dummies)

If you are reading this, then you probably know me somehow. Either you are related to me (possibly even birthed me!), or you are in library school. So that means, if I want this blog to continue after 753 has ended, I will have to make it useful to other people--ones who are not forced to comment on it every month! That means that as much as I want to rant on about the controversy over gangsta lit, it would probably be more helpful if I could make LIBRARY RESOURCES more accessible somehow. In an epiphanous moment as I showed my mother how to access Novelist, I realized that my friends and family, even ones who use the library, often don't know about databases. My mother found that because Novelist offers a cleaner interface, it is actually easier to use than Amazon (the only bummer is that it does not link directly to her library's catalog :( ).

So, we have established that databases can be fun. But, when are they more useful than Google? That depends on what you are looking for. What kind of information do you normally search for on Google? Trivia? Driving directions? Exboyfriend's bad photos? For the most part, those searches are best left to Google, Wikipedia, and Mapquest. But let's say that you are looking for financial information, a new novelist, a practice GMAT test, an encyclopedia you can rely on, or perhaps an article from Consumer Reports (without having to pay for a subscription!), then many times, you can access this information through your library's database.

What is a database, exactly? Well, according to Lakeland Community College, their Webclass states, “A library database is an online resource that the library subscribes to that contains articles and information from print sources such as magazines, newspapers, journals, and reference books.”

OK. So now here's the hitch...(or two)..

Because the library pays for these services, most likely, you will need a library card to access the information. Instead of one or two clicks of a mouse (like Google), you will have to first search your library's home page to link to their databases, then enter in your library card number on the user authentication screen. After that, unfortunately, you might have to navigate through some confusing layouts to access the information. Libraries are slowly improving their marketing and design of these resources, but some sites are better than others.

In this blog, I hoped to post screen shots to illustrate a few examples, but instead, I will have to rely on linking. In this way, I will not be able to give step-by-step instructions, but can instead offer an overview.

When attempting to decipher a library's database collection, I usually try to view a list of all the databases offered. The West Bloomfield Public Library has a link from their home page called, "Find Articles and Information". It then brings me to a user-friendly display of all the databases. This is one of the best-organized screens I have seen because the databases are organized by subject and include both a graphical image and a brief summary. This layout makes the information much easier to navigate. Also, notice that you did not have to enter in your library card until you chose a database. Nice marketing without trying!

As for the databases themselves, I am completely impressed! In fact, I can:

 Learn a foreign language using Rosetta Stone,
 Search for a novel for my book discussion group using Novelist, or What Should I Read Next?
 Find information about a country using Culturegrams,
 Look up a celebrity and link to articles using Biography Resource Center,
 Practice a test using Learn a Test
 Research my stocks and create my own reports using Morningstar
 Along with tons of other options!

I know that your library may not have the financial resources to purchase all of these databases, but it probably has access to a few. My advice is to explore your library's website, and see what databases they offer, but if you have trouble finding what you are looking for, call your librarian! That's what he/she is for! I can't tell you how many times I've walked people through our databases over the phone!

Anyway, I hope this helps! Have a great one, and one last thought… I love this new marketing that Chicago Public Library is doing… And on that note, take care!


Databases are such excellent resources, but not a lot of patrons even know about them. Libraries need to find ways to advertise them better. Think about what patrons are missing because they don't know about the databases!
I agree we need to be much mroe agressive in our advertising of databases. Having patrons that are not aware of the tools available to them is having patrons that arent able to see the whole picture. Hopefully CPL with the switchover to new software and website will address this.
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