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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 where information is stored in a structured way.

The OU Library buys most of its content in collections called databases. The library has subscriptions to over five hundred different databases. They don't just contain journal articles and books; some of them contain other resources such as images, newspapers and music.

Some library databases, such as Academic Search Complete, provide information on many different topics. Others focus on specific subjects. 

The Databases page of the library website contains the complete list of databases provided by the OU Library.

The Selected resources for your study page lists the recommended ones for each subject area.

Why should you use library databases?

Library databases are useful because:

  • they allow you to search for information from a variety of sources
  • they often provide access to the full text of books and journal articles
  • the information you find in them is of a high academic standard.

Searching for information in library databases

You can use Library Search to search across most of our main databases all at once.

Alternatively you can search within each subject database separately. In general, searching within a database will retrieve fewer but more relevant results.

Most databases have advanced search tools which allow you to make your search really precise. Learning some advanced search techniques will help you find more relevant information. This is an academic skill that takes time to learn. The Finding resources for your assignment page provides useful activities to help you learn these skills.

Try it for yourself

  • Think of a subject that interests you.
  • Search for that subject on Library Search to find information from a range of different databases.
  • Now search for the same topic within Academic Search Complete, which is a large, multi-disciplinary database.