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Understanding databases

Student with a prosthetic leg using a database on their laptop

A database is a bit like an online catalogue containing hundreds of thousands of items on various subjects. The library gives you access to many key subject specific databases. 

The OU Library buys almost all its books and journals in collections called databases. The library subscribes to more than five hundred of them. They don't just contain journal articles and books; some of them contain other resources such as images, newspapers and music.

Searching a database isn't like searching the internet; you will only get the resources in that particular database.

The complete list can be found on the databases page.

The advantages of using databases

Databases are useful because:

  • You can search for articles or books on a topic for assignments from a variety of sources
  • You can read the full text of the books and most of the articles that you find
  • You can be confident the information you find in them is of a high standard

For example the journal ‘British Journal of Nursing’ is just one of the journals that can be found in our database collections.

When you search for information on a particular topic you may want to use Library Search or a subject specific database. Library Search which searches most of our main databases all at once, covering tens of thousands of full text journals containing hundreds of thousands of articles on many different academic subjects. Or you can use a subject database will give you a more detailed search and fewer but more relevant results.

Searching databases generally isn't as simple as searching Google. For the best results, learning how to use some of the advanced search techniques will help you get more relevant information. This is an academic skill that takes time to learn. You can find activities showing how to do this in 'Finding resources for your assignment'.

As there are more than five hundred databases the best way to identify suitable ones for your topic is to use selected resources for your study.

Try it for yourself

Go to Library Search or the database Academic Search complete. Type in a subject which interests you. Would any of the results be helpful for your assignments? You will probably need to use the options to refine your search in order to get the best results.