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ED 808 Academic Research and Publishing

Databases 101

Library Databases: The Basics

 So, what is a library database?

Library databases are a major part of any academic library collection. Using library databases, you gain access to SDSU’s subscriptions to academic journals, e-books, and other online resources. You can only access these through the library’s website at The SDSU library subscribes to over 100 databases.

A library database is an electronic catalog or index used by researchers to rapidly search multiple scholarly resources on a subject.  Use databases to find articles from sources like magazines, academic journals, newspapers and reference books.

Many databases focus on specific subjects, for example, there are databases that search only the academic journals and books in the fields of science, literature, art, business, psychology and so on. But many databases are multidisciplinary, that is, they include information from many different academic topics With a little work, you can become an expert searcher of either type of library database. 

I can’t use very many Internet sources for my paper/project. Does a library database count as an Internet source?

The journals and articles you find in library databases are not the same as the “Internet” sources your professors often warn against. They are warning you against using Internet sources like those found using Google or on Wikipedia that don’t always contain trustworthy information. The information found through library databases are part of the library’s collection and contain reliable information.  In a library database, you can limit a search to only peer reviewed sources.  These are sources that have undergone a review for quality made by other scholars in your field of study. When professors require you to use library databases that include peer reviewed sources this is how they teach you to consult the most reliable sources that have undergone a review by subject experts.


How do I get access from off campus?

You can only access the SDSU databases through the library’s website at The library pays for student access to databases but databases must recognize or authenticate you as an SDSU student for you to gain access without charges.   You can access databases listed on the A-Z list or by using the Research Guides or Course Guides.  If you are accessing databases from off campus, after you click into a database, you will be prompted to enter in your name, Red ID and Library Pin. This will give you access.  Need a library pin? Click Here.


Databases seem great. How do I find a database on my topic?

If you want to find an article or journal on your topic but don’t have a specific article in mind, you can search the library databases in your subject area.  The library provides access to over a 100 databases, so the trick is to search in a database that covers your subject area or topical area.  Librarians have created Research Guides and Course Guides to help you find databases  that search your subject area.  You can choose a Research Guide on your broad topical area, for example, art, business, education, or psychology.  Once in the guide, click on the Articles tab on the left side of the screen to go to a list of recommended databases on the subject.  Read the short description of the database   and choose which one you want to search. 

How do I find full-text articles?

Most library databases provide the full-text of the articles they index. But other databases provide information about resources that exist, that is, the citation and abstract (brief description) for the article, and you use this information to find the full-text somewhere else.  To get you to the full-text of articles quickly, library databases give you the option to limit your search to find only articles with full text available.   If you find an  article that looks helpful but the current database you are searching in doesn’t have full text access to it, look for the Find Full Text link located on the search results screen under the article you want. This will link you to a page to help you access the article online, in print, or through placing an interlibrary loan request free of charge.

Additional Help

Remember, librarians at the reference desk are available to help you and they can suggest databases to try based on your specific topic.  Also, there are subject specialty librarians who specialize in particular subject areas who can provide expertise in searching those specialized databases.  Don’t hesitate to stop by the reference desk to get help or make an appointment to meet with your subject librarian.