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NHECHS - HCCS Library Instruction: Databases - Source of the Sources!

This guide compiles instructional materials selected by HCC Librarian Jenn B. Stidham for library instructions sessions designed for North Houston Early College High School students.

What Are Specialized Databases?

Specialized Databases

For this section I am going to focus on one type of resource where you can find professional and scholarly sources. These resources are specialized databases. A specialized database—often called a research or library database—allows targeted searching on one or more specific subject areas (i.e., engineering, medicine, Latin American history, etc.), for a specific format (i.e., books, articles, conference proceedings, video, images), or for a specific date range during which the information was published. Most of what specialized databases contain can not be found by Google or Bing.

There are several types of specialized databases, including:

  • Bibliographic – details about published works
  • Full-text – details plus the complete text of the items
  • Multimedia – various types of media, such as images, audio clips, or video excerpts
  • Directory – brief, factual information
  • Numeric – data sources
  • Product – model numbers, descriptions, etc.
  • Mixed – a combination of other types, such as multimedia and full-text

ACTIVITY: Database Types

Open activity in a web browser.

When to Use Specialized Databases

Search specialized databases to uncover scholarly and professional information that is not available through a regular web search. Specialized databases are especially helpful if you require a specific format or up-to-date, scholarly information on a specific topic.

Many databases are available both in a free version and in a subscription version. Your affiliation with a subscribing library grants you access to member-based services at no cost to you. 

TIP: Free vs. Subscription?

In some cases, the data available in free and subscription versions are the same, but the subscription version provides some sort of added value or enhancement for searching or viewing items.

How to Choose a Database

Information about the specific subject range, format, or date range a particular specialized database covers is called its scope. A specialized database may be narrow or broad in scope, depending on whether it, for instance, contains materials on one or many subject areas.

If you are using a database licensed by the HCC Libraries and are looking at the database title in the A-Z list of databases, you will see scope information below the name. For example, the Academic Search Complete database information looks like -

Academic Search Complete

Once you are aware of a database’s scope, you’ll be able to decide whether the database is likely to have what you want (for instance, full-text journal articles in art as opposed to conference proceedings in biology). Reading about the scope can save you time you would have otherwise wasted searching in databases that do not contain what you need.

Compare the scope of the above database to that of the below. Which one has a narrower scope? Which one would you use for a search about the role of women during WWII? How about for research about the programming language C+?


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