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Research step-by-step: 3) Find books & articles via databases

Follow the tabs for a Step-by-Step Research Guide

Questions? Ask a Librarian

Finding information in books and periodical articles via databases


Most of the information you will use for your papers and projects will come from books and articles that you will find via databases.  There is  a lot more to research than is presented in this guide, so please ask the librarians for help.


Every database is different.  Some have books, others have article, and some have both.  Some specialize in one field and has information only on nursing or psychology, or botany and so on. Some have some information on just about everything. Some have scholarly information, some have popular information and some have both. Some allow you to limit your search to scholarly information. Some allow you to limit your search to only items that are available in full-text. Some give you access to information on the internet, others only provide information they have purchased.


Every database is the same.  Every database is searchable. Every database uses Boolean logic. Most databases will allow you to print and/or email what you find.  Most scholarly databases charge for articles, but City College has bought many of them for City College students to use for free.  You can access them from anywhere using your CSID as the username and your last name as the password.


First: Choose a database that will have the kind of information you will need.  San Diego City College LRC/Library has over 30 databases containing hundreds of thousands of articles, books, and book chapters. Most of the databases contain articles, but some of them, the catalog, for example, contains a list of the books and other items the library owns.  A school like UCSD or SDSU probably has over 300 databases. Ask a librarian to help select the right database for your paper/project.


Second: Construct your search. There are many ways a database can allow you to control a search.  The following three ways are what you will encounter most often: 1) the words you choose to type in 2) how you combine the words 3) where, within the database, you look for those words.  Use a librarian and the help screens.


1) The words you type in come from the chart you made as suggested on tab "1st Develop a topic." You did make that chart, didn’t you?   Add more alternative terms to that chart as you come across them during your research. They may come in handy later. You will use one word from two or three columns in your search.  Do not use more than one word from each column.


So, choose one word from two or three of your columns from your chart that reflect your research interests.


2) How you combine the words. There are many ways to combine the words you are typing in, but the most useful is with the word AND.  Using AND will get you results that contain both words.  Some databases automatically combine words with an AND, some have a drop down menu and you have to choose the AND. There are other ways the AND appears as well.  Stick with the AND. Check with a librarian or take LIBS 101 for more complex searching.


So, combine one word from two or three columns from your chart with the word AND. 


3) Where in the database you choose to look for the words you type in:  Notice in databases there is often an option to select, author, title, keyword or other things.  These are called fields and you are doing field searching.  If you select author, it will look at all the authors of everything in the database for a match to what you typed.  When you have a topic, search in many fields at the same time such as search title, author subject all at once.  To do that in our catalog, select keyword.  To do this in other databases, the options vary.  In EBSCO Academic Search Premier, leave the search on the default: "select a field." 


When you are searching for a topic do NOT use subject searching.  The subjects are unique to each database and you may miss important information.  Rather use the broad searches described in the preceding paragraph, read the subject heading to get more ideas for word to search, than redo the broad search with the new words you have found.


Many article databases offer the option of searching the abstract or citation.  Abstract” is just an academic word for summary.  Citation” is the word for the information about the article such as title, author, and title of journal (if applicable) date of publication and so on. A citation is what you would use if you used a quotation from an article and it is what you would write in your references cited or bibliography. 


Start with a big search, such as keyword (in the catalog), select a field (in Academic Search Premier) or full-text, and then shrink it if you get too many results by changing the field, for example, change to searching only the abstract or title field.


So, combine one word from two or three columns with the word AND and select "keyword" or other broad search.



I will combine the words environment*, Olympics, and Beijing with AND and select "full text" for the places to look for the words.


* You can use truncation in many databases to find variations of a word.  For example environment* will find the following words in the database: environment, environmental, environments, environmentalist, environmentalists …  On the keyboard, it is the shift 8.


Getting too much? 

Reconsider your truncations.

Do you need to narrow your topic?

Try selecting title or abstract instead of keyword or full-text.

Can you narrow your topic by adding a word from another of your key word columns?

Don’t use the Boolean OR.


Not getting enough?

Get rid of some of your Boolean And searches.

Try your synonyms and get more terms from encyclopedias and your texts.

Try selecting full text instead of keyword.

Are there words you can truncate?

Check the spelling.


Read what you have found for clues on finding more.  Look at authors that write on your topic and for more alternative words for your key words.



Our library catalog (not the school's catalog of classes) lists the books, e-books and other items the library owns.  Use it as you would other databases.  To find a book on the shelf, you need to get the answers to these three questions: Which campus is it on? What is the location? What is the call number?

1) Which campus is it on? City, Mesa, or Miramar?
2) What is the Location? 

  • Circulation Collection: This means that it can circulate out of the library: you can take it home. City's and Miramar's will say "Circulating Collection." Mesa's books will say "Main Book Stacks." 

  • Internet: You can access these books from anywhere with an internet connection using your CSID as your user name and your last name as your password.

  • Reference Collection: These books stay in the library and are on the main floor.

  • Reserve Collection: Most of these items stay in the library and are housed behind the Circulation Desk, but come to the Information Desk first to get the correct call number.  These are items your professors set aside for your class to use.

3) What is the call number:  The call number is the number on the back of the books that is used to shelve the books in order so that you and we can find them.  Learn how to use call numbers by playing the call number game. Remember that, after the second set of letters, there is a decimal point, even if you cannot see it.


To find a book on the shelf, take the answers to the 3 questions above and 1) get to the right campus library 2) get to the right location in the library and 3) use the call number to find the book.


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