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Introduction to the EBSCO Database Interface

The UAlbany libraries give users access to dozens of online databases which contain information on journal articles and other sources, often including the full text of the piece in question. Navigating your way from the libraries’ website to the information you need means using one of a number of database interfaces. A number of databases that can be useful for the downtown programs’ students who are Dewey’s primary users employ EBSCO’s database interface. (Fun fact: EBSCO was founded in 1944 and gets its name from founder Elton Bryson Stephens.) Here are some of the EBSCO databases you’ll find most useful depending on your area of study:

Everyone: Academic Search Complete is a broad-ranging database covering over 7,000 journals in full text in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences. It can be a great starting point, but don’t neglect the more specialized databases which can help you zero in on items that meet your specific needs.

Information Studies: ERIC (Educational Resources Information Center) contains works relevant to librarianship and other educational/information professions, while LISTA (Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts) has a tighter focus on the core scholarly productions in those fields (and does contain full-text articles, not just abstracts).

Public Administration: Public Administration Abstracts includes bibliographic information about articles in the field, including some with full text. EconLit is maintained by the American Economic Association and includes sources in all areas of economics.

Social Work: Medline contains information on medicine and health policy that may be relevant to certain areas of research in Social Work. CINAHL (Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature) and Health Reference Center-Academic may also be worth a look depending on your project or interest.

How It Works

Whichever database you’re going to use, the UA Libraries homepage is the place to start. Click on the link for “Databases & Indexes��? on the left to browse lists or seek out databases by subject. If you already know the title of the database you want, just type its name into the search box in the center of the page. (See images below.) Note that if you’re using an off-campus computer you may be asked to enter your Unix ID and password before being allowed access.

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The interface for any of the EBSCO databases in the libraries’ collection will look the same, with a note above the search boxes to let you know which one you’re in. For the purposes of this introduction we’ll be searching in Academic Search Complete, the most general-purpose of the EBSCO databases, but the steps we take in our information quest will be applicable to any in the EBSCO family.

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Those search boxes are where much of the action is in searching an EBSCO database. You enter the terms you want to search for in the boxes, and may optionally specify which portion of a returned record a word must appear in to match your search (you do this using the drop-down menus next to the search boxes). A further refinement of your search can be made by adjusting the so-called Boolean operators that are set by default to AND (and raising a glass to George Boole [1815-1864] while you do it). If my two search terms are “divorce��? and “poverty,��? leaving the operator on AND will only return results with both terms appearing; switching it to OR will return results with either or both terms; flipping it to NOT will give you items that contain the first term but in which the second is absent. Below is the result of a simple search for items which contain both “divorce��? and “poverty��? (notice that the Boolean operator has been left on AND).

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As you can see, the list resulting from this search contains 190 items. It would be perfectly possible to examine each of these items to see if they appear relevant and useful to your research, but it’s also possible to take steps at this point to further limit which results are included. Under the “Refine your results��? header on the left of the screen, you can tell the database things like “I only want sources which I can make appear in complete form on this computer right now!��? (check the “Full Text��? box), or “I only want articles that were published after approval by people accredited in my field!��? (check the “Scholarly [Peer Reviewed] Journals��? box). You can also limit the range of years of publication for your results using the sliding indicator. As an example, in the image below I’m telling the database that I only want peer-reviewed sources available in full text that have been published since 1990.

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Et voilà! Instead of 190 results to look through, by more precisely specifying what we’re looking for we’ve gotten the list to an easily manageable thirty three.

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But Wait, There’s More!

A short blog post does not allow for a full explication of all the ways the EBSCO Interface can help you in your research, and you’re encouraged to mouse around and experiment, or better yet ask one of the friendly folks at the reference desk for further help. For now, we’ll leave you with two very useful concepts you can use to become a super searcher: wildcard and truncation symbols. (Note that the symbols used and how they operate can differ from interface to interface, so this information is worth your attention even if you’ve used them in other non-EBSCO interfaces.)

The wildcard symbols for the EBSCO interface are ? (question mark) and # (pound sign). In both cases, you use them when you want to avoid specifying one or more letters in your search term. The difference between the two is that the question mark stands for one letter, while the number sign will tell the database to include words with one or two.

Examples:
• Searching for m?le will return results containing the words mile, male, or mole, but not Moule (a popular surfing area on the island of Guadeloupe, and clearly not what you’re searching for when you’re doing serious academic work, right?).

• Searching for hon#r will return results containing the words honor or honour. This is especially useful for words of this sort that have more than one common spelling and saves you from having to do two searches for the same word.

The truncation symbol in the EBSCO interface is * (asterisk), and it allows you to specify the beginning of a search term while the ending is allowed to vary. This is great for finding different grammatical forms of a word that share a root but have differing endings.

Example:
• Searching for comput* will return results including words like computer, computing, computational, etc.

Happy searching, and remember that the earlier you start your research for a given project, the better chance you have of finding the perfect sources, whether in the UAlbany libraries’ print and online collections or through the magic of Interlibrary Loan and UA Delivery!

Blog post created by Ryan Murray