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 has a collection of over five hundred different databases. These collections contain more than just journal articles and books - some databases also house resources like images, newspapers and music.

While certain databases like Academic Search Complete cover a broad range of topics, others are specifically tailored to particular 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 some recommended databases for each subject area.

Reasons for using library databases

  • Comprehensive search: databases allow you to search for information from a variety of sources, enabling you to access a wide range of materials.
  • Full text access: many databases provide access to the complete text of books and journal articles, giving you an opportunity to delve deeper into your research.
  • Academic standard: the information you find in databases meets high academic standards, ensuring its reliability and relevance to your studies.

Searching for information in library databases

You can use Library Search to search across most of our main databases all at once. Making it a convenient starting point for your research. 

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

Most databases offer advanced search tools that enable you to refine your search criteria and obtain precise results. Learning these advanced search techniques is an academic skill that takes time to develop. 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.