Choosing a Library Database

Many Options

If you look at your library’s database list, you might feel overwhelmed and confused. Why are there so many databases to choose from, and which one should you use?  The first thing to realize is that library databases are each unique and specialized. Because of this, libraries tend to subscribe to multiple library databases to provide access to a range of materials that support the curriculum of the college. To choose a database, you need to know what each library database provides access to.

EBSCO, ProQuest, Gale

There are three big companies in the world of library databases: EBSCO, ProQuest, and Gale. Most likely, your library will have access to library databases that are owned by at least one of these, if not all three. Their library databases will generally provide you access to digital versions of resources: ebooks, newspaper articles, magazine articles, and scholarly journal articles. These companies also provide access to multimedia resources, such as streaming video and audio files. Some of the most common library databases from these companies are EBSCO’s Academic Search Complete, ProQuest Central, and Gale’s Academic OneFile. Any of these three library databases will connect you to the full range of resource types.

These three companies (EBSCO, ProQuest, and Gale) own so many library databases that they each also offer an aggregator search tool, which your library might or might not have access to depending on what they subscribe to. An aggregator search tool allows you to search across all of the library databases that your library subscribes to, owned by a single company. So, instead of searching in each of EBSCO’s library databases individually, you can do a single search using EBSCOhost. Likewise, you can use the ProQuest Platform to search across most ProQuest resources, and Gale’s PowerSearch to search across most Gale library databases. These aggregators also allow you to customize which library databases you want to search within. Note, however, that additional features are often available when library databases are searched one at a time.

Beyond these three companies are many others that your library might subscribe to that can be just as or maybe even more resourceful than the databases already discussed. Speaking to one of your librarians to understand which databases are the most appropriate for your research topic is always strongly recommended.


Using the scenario for this chapter, and knowing that I need to find resources about artificial intelligence, I might want to focus on library databases that hold science articles (including general, multidisciplinary choices that cover science as well as many subjects). After looking at my library’s database list, I determine that I will start with EBSCOhost and choose EBSCO’s Science Full Text, Academic Search Complete, and MasterFILE. By using EBSCOhost, I’ll be able to search all three of these library databases at the same time.


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Introduction to College Research Copyright © by Walter D. Butler; Aloha Sargent; and Kelsey Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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