Thing 9: Research Databases

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Top Reasons to Use Subscription Databases

Topics covered in this lesson*: 

  • What are online databases
  • How to access them
  • How to use them

* Remember you don’t have to explore everything in this lesson. Pick what interests you most. 


We all do it, we start our information searches with Google, Bing or some other big search engine. And frequently gives us the information we’re looking for. But we often forget that our school and public libraries provide access to all sorts of magazine, newspaper and journal articles (and other information and data sources!) that aren’t generally available on the open web. You just won’t find the content in these goldmines via Google or Bing.

These collections of articles and other resources are often referred to as databases, subscription services, research collections, etc. We librarians still haven’t come up with a great word to promote these resources!

Database services let you search for articles by topic, author, date, magazine title and more options. Many databases contain the full-text of magazine and newspaper articles. One stop shopping! Though sometimes you will just get the citation to the article – author, title, date, source info. In those cases, you’ll need to locate the magazine in your library or through Interlibrary Loan.

This lesson is your opportunity to explore research databases that may be new to you or to delve more deeply into ones that you haven’t had time to explore as much as you’d like.


Each of your school libraries (and public libraries!) has its own unique mix of research databases that provide access to scholarly literature, popular magazines, newspapers and more.

Everyone in New York State has access to all of the ones provided through the New York State Library NOVEL service. (If you’re in another state, check with your State Library.) Access is simple, it’s based on your location. If your’re in NYS, you should be all set!

In addition, your School Library System may provide the option of purchasing additional services through them. And you may also be purchasing access through your own school district.

If you’re not familiar with which research databases are available in your school, take a look at the lists by school library system region below, contact your school librarian, or contact your regional School Library System Director.


Databases are commercial services that libraries pay fees to access. The use is usually limited to the students and staff of a particular district or region. Logins and passwords can often be a bit of a barrier to use. Fortunately, all the services provided through the New York State Library database service use your location in NYS for easy, barrier-free access. And increasingly schools are providing ways to make access simpler.

Does your library have a web page or pathfinder page of some sort that includes the databases available to your students and staff? If you’re a classroom teacher, do your students have easy access to the databases that support your curriculum?

If not, you might consider creating a web page with your databases as your activity for this lesson.  You could add a web page to your library website, create a page on your blog, add to your Libguides or whatever other method you can think of. The more visible the databases are, the more likely they are to be used.

You could even include search widgets for specific databases to make them even simpler to access. Here’s an example of a search widget for the Opposing Viewpoints database. Give it a try, enter a search in the Search Resource box and hit enter. You should jump right into a search result. (It might ask you to allow access to you location to verify you’re in NYS)

Cool, right? These search boxes are available for lots of different databases. (Instructions for Gale, Proquest and  EBSCO.)

How are the databases made available? Are there logins and passwords? How are you sharing them? Are you sharing them securely? Can students and staff access the databases from home? What about databases from the public libraries in your region? Have you encouraged students and staff to get public library cards so they can access databases that the public libraries provide.

Database lists

  • NOVEL NY – You all should have access to this list of databases through the New York State Library’s NOVEL project. Do you have link to them from your own school web site? Include them in pathfinders and lessons at the point of need? You can also create search box widgets to put on your web sites, blogs and wikis. So handy! (Instructions for Gale, Proquest and  EBSCO.)
  • Your Public Library – Don’t overlook what’s available through your public library. They should have all the same NYSL NOVEL NY databases, but they’ll likely have others as well. I just discovered my public library even has access to all the self-paced tech learning modules in Score!
  • New York Public Library Databases – Did you know that any New York State resident can get a New York Public Library card? This is the library that serves New York City. But even if you never get to visit NYC, you can use your library card to access the databases, ebooks and magazine collections of the New York Public Library. Apply online here.

Some features to look for and explore in the databases include:

  • Alerts for subject searches – Some databases have an option to create an alert to notify you about new articles on the topic you’ve searched for.
  • Saving results – Check the database you’re testing for options to save results to a search list that can be exported for later use. Or being able to add content to a service like Google Drive, Microsoft OneNote or Evernote.
  • Advanced options – Can you limit a search to peer-reviewed articles? Full text? Limits by date? Other useful search options?
  • Search widgets – Are there search widgets you can use to promote the resources on your own web site. Examples: Search Widgets on the sidebar of the LAHC LibGuide.

Help files and more

Links to help files for 3 of the more popular database companies. Your own school librarian can help you with questions about services they provide.

What’s wrong with just Googling it?

“There’s nothing wrong with using Google or another search engine to find information on the web. Just keep in mind that most of the information retrieved from the open web hasn’t been evaluated. It could be inaccurate, biased, or it might not be current. Also, the authors of web sites might not have the same credentials as the authors of articles found in the library databases. You will need to more carefully evaluate information retrieved on the open web. All of the articles found in the library databases have already been evaluated for accuracy and credibility by discipline-specific experts and publishers.”  (from Instead of Google)



OPTIONS: As usual, the options are many and varied. Pick an idea from the following list. Or explore any other aspect of this topic that is of interest to you.

  • Explore Databases: Explore a database that you’re not an expert with yet. Find out how it works, what features are available. Consider how you might use it with your classes.
  • Improve Database Access: Figure out how to add search widget to one of your web pages, wikis, google sites, blogs. Or create a web page with a list of databases if you don’t already have one. How might this help students?
  • Compare: Pick a topic and compare the results across several database tools and/or search engines.
  • Instruction: Explore new ways to teach students about database search resources.  Create a research guide for your own students.

BLOG POST: For your blog post, share what you learned about databases, what aspects you explored and any work you created.


  • Write & publish your blog post.
  • Copy the URL (webpage address) for your post.
  • Return to your Google Classroom, find the assignment page for the lesson you just completed and follow the directions for turning in and sharing your work.

*Only for students participating in the workshop for PD credit hours through the Google Classroom.

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