More on databases

Paul Allison, of Teachers Teaching Teachers, posted this entry on Databases and Research on his blog last night. Listen to the audio.

I think Paul’s comments honestly demonstrate the problems we have promoting databases. At one point Paul asks do students really need those old newspapers anyway?

Paul’s right about much of the access stuff. It’s too hard and too confusing.

But, like it or not, the fact is that not all scholarly content, not all content is free. The stuff in the lit databases, for instance, comes from books and journals that writers write and publishers publish to make a living. The books are not free, neither is the content within them. Nevertheless, in most cases the content is free to our users, most importantly our learners.

As for why folks in tech circles aren’t using databases more, this really bugs me.

I know tech people who spend far more time mastering a sexy new app, than it would take to get into and figure out how to search a database. These tools certainly have as much worth as Twitter. Why not give them a try?

As for “what is special about these resources”and as for “kids not needing old newspapers.” Hmmm.

Do we want kids to use homogenized texts only? Or do we want them to touch and explore more contemporaneous sources? At Springfield, we’ve explored the development of the Holocaust through the 1930s New York Times. We’ve also experienced Civil War reporting and the language of the Civil Rights Movement through a first hand approach. Has Paul seen the depth in Gale’s Literary Resource Center or Biography Resource Center or Opposing Viewpoints? Has he seen the specialized business and history databases in EBSCOhost? The radio and television transcripts and the video in elibrary? The educational video and supporting content in United Streaming or Safari Montage? The primary source content in the many ABC-CLIO databases? The scholarly archive of JSTOR? The comprehensive analysis in CQ Researcher? The 50,000 ebooks on all topics and levels in netlibrary?

He needs a tour. Everyone needs a tour, especially our tech people. I am screaming now. You are missing really good stuff. Maybe not for every information task, but for many of them.

Until you’ve tasted a really good bagel you don’t know what you are missing.

Take a look at the databases my students can access or browse them by subject. From school these resources are merely one click more for students. I make sure everyone (including all parents) have password lists. We do workshops for parents too. These resources are fabulous. My students love them.

Could they be easier to access? Absolutely. We MUST work on that.

Join the conversation at 9:00 PM Eastern tonight on Teachers Teaching Teachers.

Let’s work together on solutions.


For those of you who are truly interested in student response to database, in a school culture that values research, I am included transcripts from my focus group study published in Chelton and Cool’s Youth Information-Seeking Behavior, 2nd edition. Scarecrow, 2006. (I do exit interviews with seniors every year.)

“There’s a database for everything.” Virtual Library as Quality Filter (Q5 & Q6)
Students spoke often about the importance of discerning quality information, the importance of being able to locate primary and scholarly sources. They valued pathfinders as a way to quickly get to resources for specific assignments and to quickly access particular information formats. But perhaps the biggest revelation from the groups was the enormous appreciation students felt for access to online databases. Student voices gushed as they easily listed and described their favorites. GaleNet, especially its Opposing Viewpoints database, was universally acclaimed. A kind of “me too” syndrome emerged in each group as they discussed their most-loved databases. Though students had their favorites, they recognized that they each had particular strengths and choosing the right one for a particular information task was important. Some displayed surprising understanding of which database was provided by which vendor. (In a perfect virtual library world, that concept would be transparent to the user.)
A: I like e-library.
A: Me too.
A: I like GaleNet.
A: I love GaleNet.
A: I love EBSCOhost.
JV: Why do you like the databases?
A: Because they really give you good essays and good material. Like you’re not getting little flimsy thingies from Google, you’re getting good solid essays.
JV: So databases seem to be like the primary value.
All: Yes. (Heads nodding in agreement) (Group 1)
JV: What features of the library website do you value the most?
A: Catalogs and Databases. (Yes, all, laughter)
JV: It seems like that’s a value for everyone?
All: Yeah. (All responding at the same time) GaleNet—yes, GaleNet! EBCOhost, I like e-library. e-library is the best for Global.
JV: It’s interesting to see that it is such consensus over the databases. Why is that, do you think?
A: Cause they have everything. It links you to the whole world.
A: There’s a database for everything. Like if you need newspaper articles, there’s one for that. If you need like scholarly sources, there’s one for that too. If you need like pictures or reviews, there’s stuff for them too. (Group 2)
A: I use it when – actually, I’m a dork. I use it when I don’t know anything about that particular issue just to read up on it, or also if we have debates like the UN model that we did in one of our classes, I wanted to know a lot about my position that I was given, so I used Opposing Viewpoints and Research Gold (Student Resource Center Gold) which actually really helped me to get in-depth what I needed to learn.
A: I like how there’s like a myriad of different databases in there, because if I’m in GaleNet’s Opposing Viewpoints and I type in my topic and I only get three articles, I go search at e-Library and I find 20 articles. (Group 3) Why the universal acclaim for databases? They give students efficient access to the materials their teachers value and those they have come to value themselves. Students noted that databases offered greater searching flexibility and more options than free Web search tools. They knew that databases offered opportunities to filter for peer-reviewed materials and to search by media or document type.
A: And also because you can be really clear about what you’re searching for, and you can say like peer-reviewed or only magazines or only video pictures, primary sources. Just the options make it valuable. (Group 1)
And students appreciate the portability of their database options.
JV: So you appreciate search options in databases.
All: Yes.
A: A lot. And I also use them at home too since we have the passwords. And I usually go back and research further at home on the databases on my own computer. (Group1)
Students explained that their strategies for evaluation extend to examining database result lists. In Group 3, one young man a selection process that moves well beyond satisficing. He described the importance of the critical evaluation of results even when they appear in already filtered databases.
A: The other thing is the ability to differentiate. I mean, yes, you have something like GaleNet and Opposing Viewpoints. But even Opposing Viewpoints might have articles that don’t hold up to par as some others might, and you learn to look at those with a critical eye, learn to differentiate between good articles. I mean, it’s not like looking at Google and GaleNet. You’re looking at something that’s very good and then deciding between great and better. (Group 3)

“I really don’t have to Google things anymore, to aimlessly research.” Comparing Google to the Databases and Virtual Library Resources (Q6 & Q10)
Convincing students to look beyond the free Web and commercial search engines has been described by many researchers as an uphill battle. (De Rosa, Dempsey, and Wilson, 2003; Fallows, 2005; Griffiths, J.R. and Brophy, P., 2005; Mann, 2005). In fact, the OCLC Environmental Scan ( quotes one content vendor , “Google is disintermediating the library” (De Rosa, Dempsey, and Wilson, 2003 Introduction ¶ 2). For the students in the focus groups, there are times to use Google, and there are clearly times when Google does not quickly get them what they need. A student in Group 1 expressed an understanding of Google’s limits, noting, “Apparently there’s an invisible Web that I didn’t even know about.”
When searching options are no more than an extra click away, and when use of those options are highly valued by their teachers, the slope to develop a richer searching tool kit does not seem as steep. Without prompting, nearly all the students were eager to compare their experiences with the world’s most popular search engine to their experiences with the Virtual Library for academic research. Students compared their lack of success with Google to their positive experiences with the website 23 times.
While students continue to use Google’s significant information reach for other information tasks, their academic behaviors and attitudes fly in the face of the Pew findings relating to college students who ignore their university’s resources. The Pew researchers observed “students who were using the computer lab to do academic-related work made use of commercial search engines rather than university and library Web sites” (Jones and Madden, 2002). Each focus group repeatedly expressed the belief that their school library’s customized interface was better able to give them what they needed, as well as what their teachers hoped they would find. Google didn’t cut it for their school projects. It wasn’t efficient for their information needs; it didn’t filter for quality. It didn’t have the type of search features they found in their favorite databases.
A: When you research at the Virtual Library, you know that you’re getting like correct information and stuff. Like going to Google and getting someone’s like crap. Or a student project. (Group 3)
A: If you end up going to Google, you have all sorts, you have all this huge pile to sift through, but the library’s already sifted through all of those. (Group 4)
Students often compared Google to subscription databases. Though Google may have quality materials, students generally felt it would be more expedient to use databases. (Interestingly, these same students are linked on the Virtual Library to Google Scholar, Google Print, and Google’s Advanced search screens. In the short answer items of the Web-based survey, students noted appreciation for being introduced to these extended Google tools.) The focus group students appear to understand the difference between general free Web search tools and databases.
A: Google doesn’t really come up with…
A: Scholarly articles. That’s how the Virtual Library helps us out. (Group 1)
A: I think I understand more about like general Google searches versus the databases, like how they’re separate and how they each kind of do different things for you. (Group 2)
A: To me a good researcher is someone who doesn’t try to find the easiest way out. I mean, it can take you, yeah, ten seconds, whereas ten minutes you can find twice amount of articles, journals, scholarly articles than you could have found on Google or Jeeves. I mean, they’re search engines, and that’s what they’re specified for, search engines. They’re not in-depth scholarly articles. You’re not going to find Harvard Journal . . . and if you do, maybe Google’s stepping up their game. (Group 3)
A: I know that like before my boyfriend got into a different private school, the teachers don’t even know what a database is. They are just like go on Google or something. . .And then I compare it to students at this school, and it’s like this is real information, I see that it’s from a scholarly article rather than like someone’s website project or something. (Group 3)
A: I think it’s a waste to go on Google, because like five articles from Google equal one from GaleNet.
(Group 3)
Group 4 noted that other school websites may have limited resources and they feature prominent links to Google. The group laughed and wondered why a library would bother to link students to create such a link.
A: I went to sites from a different high school and they had like a website but it didn’t have any databases, good ones, they had maybe like two, it was like Ask Jeeves and Google. [All laugh]
A: A link to Google. (Laughter)
JV: Why do you laugh when you hear that?
A: Cause it’s so…
A: It’s like a joke to us.
A: Cause now we have all these resources.
A: All we go to Google is for pictures now.
A: When we started out to research, every time we’d go to the library to research, we hear, now don’t just go to Google.” And other schools are like, “Hey, go to Google.”
A: In eighth grade they used to tell us all Google, and sites like Dogpile.
A: And how when I go to Google and I actually read stuff, I’m like, did a 12-year-old write this?
A: And they’re just like weak. (Group 4)
Students sensed that the sources found using databases would be preferred by their teachers. Although the search engine would not likely to be visible in the URL in a standard citation, the here student refers to the general quality of the choices (Q4):
A: Well, the other thing is when your teacher looks at your citations he or she is not going to see Google, Google, Google, Google, Google, Ask Jeeves. It’s personally embarrassing for me to have that, so having something like New York University Medical Journal . . . that’s a very good thing to have. And the teacher says okay, this person took time to do it. (Group 3)

12 thoughts on “More on databases

  1. As always, Joyce, you’re dead on. While I’m personally finding it easier to search Furl these days than EBSCO, whose interface I hate with a fiery passion, that’s only for recent information. If I need something scholarly and authoritative, I still search the databases.

    However, if these companies ever want to find themselves widely acceptable, they have to follow the likes of SIRS and make themselves more user-friendly and visually engaging . To be faced with the medicinal looking search options in J-STOR (which I hate searching even more than EBSCO) and the like will quickly turn the average user to Google.

  2. New York State provides access to a number of valuable databases and so do other states.

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were a standard “package” available in every state? Then we could have universal lesson plans and students would be able to use the searching skills they’ve developed no matter how often they move from grade to grade, district to district, or state to state. Districts who chose (or had the funds) to purchase additional databases would be able to build on the basic skills that all students then possessed.

  3. Our DISCUS folks here in SC have attempted to make our state offered databases visually friendly and easier to use–but ya know, once you get to the real deal, sometimes they are still intimidating and difficult to figure out. I am making the promotion of db a personal goal this year. I’m so glad EdTech Talks is covering this NOW as folks in SC are just heading back to school.

  4. This is a wonderful recap of the issue and as a “tech” person, I am pleased that you have posted this. Databases are harder to explain and use, but full of depth. They are not easy or sexy

  5. Thank you so much for this, Joyce. The words of students themselves make the most impact, so thank you for sharing.

    I just taught a workshop to 20 teachers in my district explaining the available databases in our district. I mentioned your student’s comments above. For the teachers, it was like the “blinders were lifted off.” They were so grateful that someone took the time just to show them these amazing resources that have been available for years… They kept saying, “wow.” But we did discuss how we wish the librarians (or someone) would make the access more kid-friendly.

    I remember learning about databases and proper search techniques in library school (grad school) and saying to myself, “Why is this only covered in LIBRARY SCHOOL?” Why doesn’t every high school or college freshman have to take a course detailing this information?”

  6. Pingback: Not So Distant Future » The serendipitous circle of searches

  7. Pingback: Show your support for DISCUS and other db you use « SCASL Blogs!

  8. Joyce, Too bad you can’t be cloned (like Michael Keaton in Multiplicity) just to enable the clone to conduct some of the workshops, speaking opportunities, and information sharing that we all eagerly anticipate and learn from wioth you. Michigan has awesome resources available through MeL, but if we don’t promote and teach them to students, staff and parents (as well as any other databases we might have available in our own schools), shame on us! I firmly believe teacher awareness and push is the key. Have to get them on-board. Keep up the amazing work.

  9. Amen to Joyce and to Susan E for screaming about the value of databases. Every time we show them to teachers and they say, “wow,” we need to be glad instead of frustrated, even though they’ve been available (in Ohio through INFOhio) for YEARS. Just takes one teacher to teach and touch hundreds of students and turn them on to the power of good information.

  10. I’m with Susan Eley above. I think Joyce has provided such a service by making her students’ comments available to us. I think that it is the student comments that show us again that we underestimate students when we don’t offer them the best quality resources, when we assume that if Googling is easy, it is good enough. Now if we could just produce the good AND easy….

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