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Literature Databases and Their Use

Indices to the published literature have existed for about 100 years, but for the first 50 years these were provided in print form and only available at university libraries. Modern literature databases are organized digital collections of references to published literature. They are an abundant resource for information and there are an abundance of databases. There is a wealth of available information but only a small part of it is included in each discipline's standard bibliographic databases. Performing a search of a literature database can seem straightforward. Searching databases of scholarly material is not like Google where you enter a word and receive pages of listings. The Google system is able to provide a searcher with mostly relevant items because the company has a record of a user's past searches and the web pages he or she has visited. When the information-seeker who uses an academic database enters a familiar term and finds a satisfyingly long listing of results; more often than not, this long list can be misleading. The search results can omit key items or include many unrelated records. The search systems of most literature databases are designed to be used by information science professionals, not by the professionals who publish in their discipline. These databases have query systems that require the use of arcane often counter-intuitive terms and controls. Few researchers or practice specialists in the disciplines listed above have the skills needed to thoroughly search within their field's own databases much less the skills to find and search within other databases. Their education and training about the use of bibliographic databases, if it includes anything, is typically limited to an hour or two of introduction and overview.