An electronic database is a collection of information organized so that a computer can quickly access requested data. Like a traditional file cabinet, databases are organized by fields, records, and files. A wide range of tools allow users to browse or search the contents of electronic databases.
Until the late 1990s, most electronic databases were marketed as CD-ROM products. However, the market has shifted to predominately online delivery. Although the CD and DVD formats are being used for single topics such as subject area encyclopedia, very few companies now promote sales of CD-ROM materials for large, frequently updated databases.
The major advantage of the CD/DVD format is immediate access. In other words, even if the Internet is slow or down, you still have access to locally networked CDs. In addition, if a subscription program ends, users are sometimes allowed to continue using their CDs.
Disadvantages of the CD/DVD format include the small storage space and constant need for updates. When CD-ROM was first announced, people were shocked by the huge storage capacity. Today, these same people are frustrated by how little a CD can store compared to huge hard drives, DVDs, and other storage medium. However the major disadvantage of CDs is the need to continously access updates.
The advantages of online delivery really address the problems cited with CDs. With online delivery, you don't need to worry about storage space or updating files. All resources are accessed through a remote server. However if your access to Internet is slow or unreliable, online delivery can be frustrating.
An increasing number of free databases are available.
Read the off-site article Sometimes Information Wants to Be Free by Shonda Brisco from School Library Journal (April 2009). Explore sources for free, online databases.
Although many electronic databases are designed for adults, many can be used by children and young adults. In addition, some companies specialize in providing resources for youth.
Read the off-site article It's Elementary: Databases for K-8 Students by Terrence Young from School Library Journal (June 2004). (Requires IUPUI login)
Use the following resources as you look at the characteristics of different databases.
Free vs Subscription
While some databases are available on the web for free, others require a subscription.
Some of the free databases are resources that are in the public domain such as classic pieces of literature. In some cases, databases are supported by government agencies, museums, grants, or other funding sources. Sometimes companies provide free databases to draw users into a website that also contains paid services. They're hoping that you'll enjoy the resource so much that you'll buy one too. Some companies provide a portion of their service for free. For example, they might provide abstracts of articles free and full-text for a charge.
Go to Gale. They have free resources on Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Women's History Month, and poetry.
Single Database vs Database Families
Some companies focus on a specific product or products selling subscriptions to individual database titles. Others have a wide range of options and offer groups of databases at discounted rates. Like "buying in bulk" you get a better deal the more you buy. However with limited budgets, consider your needs first.
Go to Encyclopedia of Astronomy and Astrophysics. This is an example of a single product focus.
Go to EBSCO. This company offers a family or group of databases for children and young adults.
Electronic databases can be found in every subject area. Examine your collection. Where is there a need for additional resources? Consider areas where a database might be particularly useful. Electronic databases are particular good at providing search tools to easily access specific pieces of information.
What would benefit from information that is constantly updated? For example, health is an area where having up-to-date information is critical.
Read AT LEAST ONE of the following off-site articles from School Library Journal on subject area databases (Requires IUPUI login):
- ABC-CLIO - Geography, World History
- EBSCO - Book Source: Nonfiction
- Facts on File News Service - Science
- Government Information Online: Tools for Democracy
- Literature and Poetry: Databases the Support the Curriculum
- Full-Text Reference Down to Science
- Grolier - American the Beautiful, Lands and Peoples, New Book of Popular Science
- McGraw-Hill - Online Encyclopedia of Science & Technology
- Science Databases
- Subject Specific Databases
- States and Countries: Databases the Enrich the Curriculum
- Thomson - Gail - Science Resource Center
Some electronic databases focus on a particular format of information such as images, newspapers, magazines, or artwork. Some materials are classified as reference materials while others are fiction or nonfiction.
Electronic encyclopedias are popular electronic databases. World Book Encyclopedia Online is a favorite choice for children and young adults. New Book of Knowledge, Encarta, Encyclopedia Britannica, and Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia are also popular.
Go to World Book Online. Explore this popular encyclopedia. What are the advantages and disadvantages of an online encyclopedia?
When considering the individual differences of children and young adults, consider the importance of visuals, audio, animation, and video along with text.
One of the most important features of an electronic database is it's searchability. Most provide multiple search options. They generally use natural language seaching along with the option of an advanced search. Many databases also provide indexes and offer subject headings to help narrow their topic. For example, NoveList from EBSCO allows users to enter a word then select a level, number of pages, lexile rating, and publication date. Click the image below to enlarge.
Once the search is completed, users have choices regarding how to use the results.
After selecting a title, the user is provided with detailed information about the book, related titles, book reviews, and websites. In addition, the user is provided related subject headings that could be used in another search.
Some companies provide sample searches.
Go to Gale's Sample Searches for Thomson Gale Databases. Choose a database and example their sample. Create your own samples.
Navigation goes hand in hand with searchability. Good databases provide tools to help users easily move around the site. Resources for children often include a graphical interface.
Some databases are designed specifically for elementary age students. As part of its subscription search, EBSCO Publishing a tool called Searchasaurus that helps guide students through the use of its databases.
Go to Inspire, choose Databases, and choose Searchasaurus. (You need an INSPIRE password). As you explore, think about how children might navigate this resource.
Go to the Media Specialists Section of GaleSchools. Explore resources for different grade levels. Compare the approach used for the two different age groups.
Like any library resource, you'll want to apply your traditional selection criteria when evaluating electronic databases. In addition to basic content quality questions, use the following areas to help you explore special considerations for electronic databases.
The first consideration should be content. For school libraries, it's important to consider whether the resource supports the curriculum and aligns to standards. In addition, it's essential to look at the other materials in the collection and whether there's a need for this material.
The layout of the content is also important. The pages should be visually appealing with easy-to-read fonts, lots of headings and subheadings, and a clean, uncluttered screen.
The content should be accessed a number of different ways. For example, users should be able to print, save, e-mail, and/or take notes within the database.
Consider the reading level of your students. Will a majority of students benefit from the database? Many materials are designed for middle and high school students rather than children.
Some databases provide the reading level using the lexile score. For example, the EBSCO Primary Search database includes many popular children's magazines. In the sample search and sample article excerpt below (click graphics to enlarge), notice the lexile of 860.
To learn more about reading levels, review the materials in the Pathfinders: Reading Levels section of this course.
Search tools should be easy to use for young readers. Help should be provided for narrowing topics or focusing attention.
What kind of technical support is provided? What happens when the system is down or access is slow? Is training needed to use the system or will people be able to explore without a lot of help?
The system should load fast and be reliable. This is particularly important for young learners.
Are help tools built into the system and easy to access? Can these help tools easily be searched?
Are passwords and other security keys needed to access the system? Does the license allow patrons to use the materials at home?
Electronic databases can be very expensive. Unlike the one-time cost of a book or other library resources, electronic databases often involved an ongoing subscription cost.
How does the price of this resource compare to other materials available on the same topic? How does this electronic database fit into the overall library budget? Are discounts available? Can a price be negotiated based on the size of your school or a state agreement?
Read online reviews for subscription electronic databases from School Library Journal for some of the most popular online databases (Requires IUPUI login):
- AccuNet/AP (Associated Press) Multimedia Archive
- Book Index with Reviews (BIR)
- Facts on File Online Reference Database
- Film Indexes Online
- Lexis-Nexis History Universe
- Lexis-Nexis Scholastic Universe
- Primary Online Package with Searchasaurus Interface
With many choices and limited funding, how do you choose the best materials for your collection?
Start with an exploration of the possibilites. Spend some time viewing the materials found at the websites of popular electronic databases. Compare their services to your needs. Consider the materials you already have your collection and the free materials on the Internet.
Find out what programs exist at the local, state, and national level to support the purchase of the database. In some cases, you may already have access to the resources for free. Or, a discount may be available.
Pick a few electronic databases that you'd like to explore indepth. In most cases, a demonstration version or free trial is available online. Find out what the database actually contains and compare that to the needs of your patrons.
- Will students use this database for research?
- Does the database support the need for information to support particular state standards?
- Would the database be useful for students who are searching or browsing?
Try the database yourself, but also observe a child or young adult using the resources.
- Do they find it easy to use?
- Would they use it if it were available in the library?
There are many licensing issues related to electronic databases. Before you buy, make certain that you're able to use the resource the way you envisioned. In other words,
- Do you plan to provide all children and young adults with access using library cards or passwords?
- Will students access the materials in the library, computer lab, and/or at home?
- Are there extra charges based on the number of patrons that use the system or the amount of traffic generated?
Through email or phone conversations, ask about whether ful-content access is available over the web. Discuss security issues, passwords, off-site access, and licensing issues related to selected databases.
Read the offsite article Principles for Licensing Electronic Resources. Although designed for all types of libraries, this article has practical implication for licensing of electronic resources for children and young adults.
State and City Sponsored Databases
Many states provide access to databases through public libraries and/or school libraries. Many websites link directly to these resources. Passwords are needed for access. Notice the resources provided in the following states.
Boston Public Library Electronic Resources
iCONN from The Connecticut Digital Library
MARVEL: Maine's Virtual Library
State Purchase Programs
Some states have state-wide purchase programs for public libraries and/or school libraries. Recently many state budgets have been cut reducing the database offerings to schools and libraries. Notice the options in the following states.
After the Purchase
Once you've purchased your databases, you're ready to share them. Consider ways children and young adults can access materials online. Be sure to follow your licensing agreement.
Spend some time exploring the variety of offerings at these these libraries:
Beverly High School Library Media Center
Groton School Library
This private school has nearly 30 databases including multiple databases from EBSCO and InfoTrac. Some links aren't active, but browse the titles to get a feel for their choices.
Information Center from Oakland Schools
Media Matters at Green Hope High School Media Center
Naples High School Library Media Center
Although electronic databases are generally easy to use and have quality help available online, it's important to develop a plan for promoting effective use of electronic databases.
Many of the companies that produce databases provide wonderful materials to help teachers, librarians, and parents use the materials. However it's also important for you to design instructional materials focusing on the specific needs of children and young adults. What assistance do they need to become independent users?
Read at least one article from the School Success Stories and Public Library Success Stories sections of EBSCO. Although there articles are promotional, they provide a nice overview of ways databases can be integrated into digital collections for children and young adults.
Many libraries develop guides for using their databases. These guides may be online or on paper. Some libraries develop bulletin board materials or sample printouts to help patrons.
Go to Online Guides to Databases at Skokie Public Library. Explore one of their guides. Do you think this type of guide would be helpful for students?
Go to Databases at Multnomah County Library. Notice how they handle access to databases. They use symbols to indicate access anywhere, from library, from Central library, and information.
Many publishers provide effective tutorials and guided tutorials to supplement their databased.
Go to Gale. Complete one of their Guided Tours! Be sure to explore their tutorials for topics associated with children and young adults such as Kids InfoBits and Opposing Views.
Explore other tutorials as you wish:
- Encyclopedia Britannica Online Guided Tour (PDF document)
Explore other teaching and training guides as you wish:
Many of the electronic databases have standards connections. You can also find ways to integrate electronic databases into classroom activities by exploring online lesson plans for ideas.
Go to EBSCO Teacher/Librarian Success Tools to explore lots of lessons plans and learning ideas.
Go to Accuweather/AP Photo Collection. The resources can be viewed by state standards, grade level, and subject area. For example, explore the standards-based photos matching the Pennsylvania Social Studies Standards for Grade 4-6. (Requires IUPUI login)
Explore other student activities and lesson ideas as you wish:
- Grolier Online Student Activities
- ProQuest K-12 Curriculum Support
- ProQuest Library Support Materials
- ProQuest Homework Help
As children and young adults use database resources, it's important that they accurately cite these materials.
Use the following resources as a starting point:
Many children and young adults go straight to the Internet when searching for information. It's important to promote use of electronic databases.
Increasingly, database providers are developing tools that increase usage such as widgets, database icons, tutorials, and promotional materials. Explore the Knowledge Base from Gale.
Read the off-site article So Far I've Only Found His Head by Walter Minkel in School Library Journal (April 2000). Explore this article about how fifth graders search electronically. (Requires IUPUI login)
Read the off-site article Data and Dessert by Anita Bowman in School Library Journal (October 2004). (Requires IUPUI login)