Smarter searching with library databases
Tuesday, 16 May, 2023 - 19:30
Learn how to access library databases, take advantage of the functionality they offer, and devise a proper search technique.
Your gateway to a wide range of online information resources
TRAINER: Hello. And welcome to this recording of the OU Library training session of Smarter Searching with Library Databases. I'm Fiona, one of the learning and teaching librarians. In this session, we assume you already know about Library Search. There is a separate training session called Using Library Search for Your Assignment if you need a refresher.
As we go through this session, we'll be putting what you've learned into practise by building a search statement. step by step. If you have a topic that you're researching now, you can work with it during the session to develop your search statement. It might be an idea to have a pen and paper handy so that you can make notes as you go if you're going to develop your own statement. And you'll have time too at the end of the session to work on it in more detail and to test it out. By the end of this session, we hope that you'll be able to find and use library subject databases, identify key search terms from your research topic and expand these using synonyms, use effective search techniques such as Boolean searching and building a search statement, and filter, save and export your search results from a database.
It's important to understand what a database is and why you would use one when looking for information for your assignment rather than just relying on Library Search or using Google. In an online library, a database is like an online catalogue, helping you easily search, find and access the right resource at the right time. The OU library gets almost all its content through subscriptions to hundreds of different databases. As well as our e-book and journal databases, you can find and use art, music, and newspaper databases throughout your studies, as well as some more subject specific databases. Most databases have some advanced search tools which allow you to filter your results in different ways to make your search really precise. And in general, searching within a database returns fewer, more relevant results than searching with Library Search.
It's worth noting, though, that Library Search itself is a sort of database and you can use the techniques that you learn in this session to improve your searching there. And we do have a separate online training session all about searching in Library Search if you want to know more. However, it's important to remember that Library Search doesn't search every single database that the OU library subscribes to. For example, it doesn't connect well to our image, law, or newspaper databases.
So where can you find the OU library databases? You can find links to all of them that the OU Library subscribes to on the library website. And I'll show you this quickly now.
I'm now on the library home page. You can find the library from the Resources tab in your module website, or you can just google Open University Library. On the home page. I click into the Library Resources tab, which is the next one next to library home.
The OU Library obtains most of its resources through subscriptions to over 500 different databases. If you click on the Databases link on the Library Resources page, which is the third one down on the right, you'll find a list of all the databases we have in alphabetical order. If you know the name of the database that you're looking for, whether it's one that you've used before or one that's been recommended in your module material, you can either find it in the A to Z list here or you can look for it in Library Search. Databases are also listed by type on the right hand side of the web page. These databases include things like biographies, dictionaries, thesauri and encyclopaedias, law cases, images and sound, or news sources. If we look at law cases, for example, you can see links to the different kinds of law direct databases that we subscribe to.
You can also find specialist subject databases for a particular subject or see what's available in your subject area by clicking on the Selected Resources for Your Study link, which is just on the right hand side below the Library Resources heading. Clicking on the link will take us to the selected resources for your study page. And you can see here, the different subjects of study at the OU are displayed, for example, starting with art history and finishing with sport and fitness and with lots of other subjects in between. Do explore the different subject collections when you have time.
I'm now going to access one subject collection, the one for biological sciences. You can now see some of the resources that are selected for this particular subject area. For example, Access Science and Anatomy and Physiology online. Anatomy and Physiology online contains interactive 3D images of the human body. And this is an example of a database that doesn't appear in Library Search, so you would need to access the database directly to see them and use them in your assignment. As we said before, some other databases also don't connect with Library Search, such as the law databases and some of the newspaper databases, which need to be researched separately.
So you can access over 500 databases through the OU Library. And if you don't know the exact name of the database that you're looking for, you can browse what's available either by the type of content or by our selected subject collections.
Now we're going to build a search statement from a research topic, starting with extracting the keywords, using phrase searching, and applying Boolean logic. If you have a topic that you need to find information for as we go through, start thinking about how you can apply each section to begin building your own search statement. A topic that you need to find information for could be something you've been given for your EMA or TMA, or simply a subject that you want to research further. The example topic that we're going to create a search statement for is: 'Discuss the impact of junk food advertising on the obesity rates of British children.'
From this topic, we need to start thinking about the keywords that we would use if we were going to use this as a search. So you might want to start thinking about what keywords can you identify that we can use in our search. If you have your own topic, also have a think about what keywords you could use. Don't spend too long on this. There will be time at the end of the session for you to fully develop your own search statement.
I've highlighted all of the keywords in this topic, such as junk food, advertising, obesity, and British children. By building a search statement using all these words, your search should return some relevant results. Now that we've got our keywords, we can start to think about synonyms which are words that mean exactly or nearly the same. For example, a synonym of hard working could be industrious.
When building a search statement, it's important to think about synonyms, as authors don't always use exactly the same terminology. You could use a thesaurus to help you find these alternative search terms or your module material. You could also think about alternative spellings, if there are any, for your keywords. For example, the UK and American spellings of behaviour or colour.
So we now need to start thinking about which synonyms we might want to think about for our particular topic, which are synonyms for things like junk food, advertising, and obesity. Some of the synonyms that we thought of are things like fast food for junk food, marketing and publicity for advertising, obesity, overweight. And if you're thinking of your own topic, think of other synonyms that you could also use.
Now that we've got our keywords and synonyms, we can start looking at how to put these together using search techniques, such as phrase searching and Boolean logic. We will also look at how to use field search and filters within a database to limit our results. One of the most powerful search techniques is called phrase searching, which involves putting together two or more words which commonly appear together in inverted commas. The search tool will then only look for instances where those words appear together in that order, for example, "United Kingdom" or "higher education."
Using one of our keywords search terms as an example, popping the search term junk food into the Scopus database brought back 17,635 results. But by placing words within inverted commas and searching again, this reduced the number of results to just over 6,674. This is obviously still far too many results, but it shows you how effective phrase searching can be at reducing your results and excluding irrelevant ones. For those of you working on your own search statement, are there any of your keywords or synonyms that would work better as a phrase?
When searching within a database, if we don't specify where to search, the database will find our search terms wherever they occur within the record, including the full text. Records are how databases store information. The sections within the records are called fields, and these could be the title or the author, for example. And unless we specify where to look, the database will search within all of these fields.
We can do the database search in a specific part of the record. This is called field searching. In the database Scopus, searching for the phrase junk food in the different fields can really make a difference to how many results I get, as you can see. So for example, if we search in the author field for junk food, we get no results at all, unsurprisingly. We get far fewer results if we look for it just in the article title. And again, fewer results than if all fields, if we search in just the abstract of the articles. And keywords returns just 477.
We now need to combine our keywords using a technique called Boolean searching. This is where you can combine keywords with and, or, and not to reduce or increase the number of results. AND is used when you combine terms with different meanings. It decreases the number of search results. OR is used when you combine synonyms. It increases the number of search results. NOT is a way of getting fewer results by excluding certain search terms. And just for your information, search engines like Google automatically put AND between your search terms, and so does Library Search.
We'll first look at the Boolean searching AND operator. Using an example pair of terms from our keywords and synonyms, junk food and advertising, putting an And, junk food and advertising, between the search terms will return fewer results, only those that contain both terms. Looking at the Boolean OR searching operator, putting an Or between the search terms, obese or overweight, will return more results, results that contain either or both terms. And finally, looking at the NOT operator, putting a Not between the search terms will return far fewer results. And this example, child not adult, only those that contain the term child will be displayed. However, remember that by using Not you will also not retrieve documents that compare the two, so use Not with caution.
One last thing before we begin building our search statement is to mention truncation. This is a searching technique in which a word ending is replaced by a symbol, normally an asterisk. Using truncation instructs the database to search for different forms of the same word and can expand your search results. An example of this using one of our keywords, advertising, truncating this to advert asterisk instructs the database to search for anything beginning with the letters A-D-V-E-R-T, such as advertising and advertisement. Similarly, using child asterisk will bring up words like children childhood and childish as well.
Now we can put all these different elements together to build a search statement. I haven't used all the synonyms we've brainstormed earlier to make it easier for you to see the different parts. Sometimes a search doesn't work first time, and then you may want to add some of the other synonyms you came up with or reduce or remove some of them. Sometimes you even have to look for other keywords if you don't get enough results. Search isn't an easy process, even for librarians.
You can see here examples of phrase searching, truncation where we have advert asterisk and market asterisk. And some of the Boolean operators OR and AND. Based on Boolean logic, we will need to put brackets around the words that represent one concept, for example, overweight or obese.
We now have our search statement and we are ready to head into a database and try it out. But before we do, just to mention what functions within the database can be used to limit and manage your search results. You can limit your search results using filters, print or download your results, export your results to a reference management tool, if you use one. These functions do look different, depending on which database you are in, but it's handy to know that they are there and where you can usually find them.
We'll now see how this all works in a database. We will be using Academic Search Complete, as this is a multidisciplinary database which also has a very clear search interface. And you can find this in the database A to Z on the library website.
I'm back on the library home page now and click onto the library resources tab from here, which is the second from the left. Then I go to the Databases link on the right hand side and navigate to Academic Search Complete, which is one of the databases under A. I could also find Academic Search Complete by searching for it in Library Search as well. Just click on the link to Academic Search Complete and we're now in the Academic Search Complete database, and you can see that it has boxes already for you to fill in for your search terms.
So I'm going to put junk food or fast food in the first search box, and advert with an asterisk or market with an asterisk. If you remember, these are the truncation symbols. And then I'll put overweight or obese in the third search box. I also need to put in child and adolescent, so I need to create another box. So I click on the plus sign to the right of the boxes at the bottom, and we can now put in child or adolescent.
Between the search boxes, you can already see the Boolean operator AND is selected as default. We leave this as it is, as this will ensure that each of our search concepts will appear in the results. Then I click on the blue search box to the right of the boxes, and we can now see the search results displayed.
If you want to refine your search, you can change the Select a Field box to Abstract, for example. If your key words appear in the abstract of an article, then it is more likely to be relevant. For example, I can change the box for child or adolescent to Abstract.
You can also set up other limiters or filters. You can find them on the left hand side of the Database Results page under refine results You can filter, for example, to full text or peer reviewed articles, or particular dates. For example, I might only be interested in the last 10 years and I could change the date box here.
We're often asked on the library help desk how to limit results to just one country, such as the UK. This is not easy to do and you never get just the geographic results you want. You could try adding synonyms for the UK into a new search box like this. So we create another search box with the plus symbol and add Britain or United Kingdom to our search for example.
However, you can see that using the country as a search term doesn't necessarily give you the results you want. So for example, we have one here from the United States. In this particular database, there is a geographical limiter-- not all of them have them-- where you can see it says Geography on the left hand side towards the bottom and we could just tick United Kingdom. But this is not necessarily any better, as authors from the UK may be writing about other countries or the country's name is used in a different context.
Managing the results. If you want to collate results, you can click on the folder icon on the right of each record, or all the resources that you want to save, and then go to the folder at the top on the blue bar. You'll see all your saved results there. So I just clicked on this particular one, A Nationwide School Fruit and Vegetable Policy and Childhood and Adolescent Overweight, A Quasi-Natural Experimental Study. You will, however, need an account to permanently save them on the database. From here, you have options on the right to print, email, save or export.
If you want to manage an individual article, click on its title. Let's go back to the main list of results. So I click on the title and this gives me lots of options on the right hand side to do things with the article. In order to read the full text of the article, I can either click on HTML Full Text on the left hand side or PDF Full Text, and I can download the article to read offline if I want to later. The Export option, which is towards the bottom, allows you to export the article as a RIS file, which are used when you work with reference management tools. We have a training session on how to use reference management tools too if you want to know more about this
Now it's time for you to have a go. Pause the recording and if you have your own topic that you want to find information for, please do feel free to use that. But if you don't have a topic in mind, I've put an example topic on the slide for you to use: 'discuss the benefits of using art as a therapy for children with learning disabilities.' Don't worry, you don't need to know anything about this subject to complete this exercise. It's just an example to get you thinking about how to extract key words from a topic and how to combine them into a search statement.
Spend a few minutes on this. There are reminders about what we have covered in this session on this slide. And if you want to download the session handout for a more detailed reminder, you'll find it on the same page that you found this recording.
When you've got your search statement ready, try doing a search in Academic Search Complete using some of the search techniques that we've just used now. If you'd like to do some activities after this session to help reinforce the search strategies we have covered, there are some links to further guidance on the web page for this tutorial. I particularly recommend Effective Searching in the Online Library, which is a 3 minute animation and is quite fun to watch.
We're now coming to the end of the session and hopefully you have some better ideas of how to use search techniques in the library databases and how to find library subject databases on the library website. So in this session, we've looked at finding and using library subject databases, identified key search terms from a research topic and expanded these with synonyms, we've used effective search techniques such as Boolean searching in building a search statement, and we've looked at filtering, saving, and exporting the search results in a database.
Hopefully you now feel confident enough to begin building your own search statements and searching for information in the library databases. But remember, you aren't alone. The library help desk is there to help you whenever you need us, and our contact details are available on every page of the library website. The phones are staffed 9:00 to 5:00 Monday to Friday, or you can send us an email.
We also have a webchat service which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. During 9:00 to 5:00 it will be staffed by OU librarians. So if you encounter any technical problems with our resources, you might want to chat during those times.
And finally, these slides are available to download, along with a handout which summarises everything that we've talked about in today's session. You can download these from the page where you join the Adobe Connect room or from the links on the library web page. Thank you for listening to this recording of Smarter Searching with Library Databases.
Tuesday, 16 May, 2023 - 19:30
Learn how to access library databases, take advantage of the functionality they offer, and devise a proper search technique.