Understanding Databases

Every year, more and more research is done by scholars online via academic databases. Print journals, scholarly monographs, newspapers, periodical indexes, and even ephemera and image collections are steadily transitioning from print to electronic.

Historically, research using print collections took place in library reading rooms with material owned by the library. Increasingly, research using electronic collections takes place outside of the library using proprietary digital platforms subscribed to by libraries. This change greatly affects how libraries function — an ownership model morphs into an access model — and how research is done. Database searches are crucial to uncovering information, but little is known about how these searches work. Additionally, it’s not always easy to find what full text content is covered in these database titles.

The goal of Beyond Citation is to help the researcher to better understand how academic databases work, and provide easier access to the database’s holdings information. For the CUNY Digital Praxis Seminar, the Beyond Citation team needed to determine which databases to feature in its initial launch, and what information to gather about each title.

First, we wanted to feature humanities databases and steer away from STEM titles. (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.) Second, we ideally wanted to cover titles that were available at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Mina Rees Library, and we wanted representation from the big three “e” vendors: EBSCOGale, and ProQuest. Additionally, we wanted to cover different kinds of content, including historical newspapers, scholarly journals, and historical e-books from both non-profit and for-profit companies.

After much discussion, the Beyond Citation team has decided to focus on the following databases and collections for its initial launch.

Google Books



ProQuest Historical Newspapers

19th Century U.S. Newspapers (Gale)

Early English Books Online (EEBO) with TCP (Text Creation Partnership) (ProQuest)

Gale Artemis: Primary Sources – Nineteenth Century Collections Online (NCCO) and Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO).


Project Muse (Johns Hopkins University Press)

Artemis Literature Resources (Gale)

EBSCO Humanities Source

We are open to and eager for feedback from users of these titles, or from any other researchers and librarians who use databases in their research. More to come in future posts on what information we hope to gather from each title, and how that information will be displayed. You can reach us at BeyondCitation [at] gmail.com and follow us on Twitter @beyondcitation as we get ready for the launch in May.


    1. Hi Stephen. I am responding for the Beyond Citation team.

      This reflects a trend in the willingness of database publishers to provide bulk data to scholars for research. For example, researchers at Columbia received more than 100,000 documents from Gale’s Declassified Documents Reference System as well as tens of thousands of documents from ProQuest’s Digital National Security Archive. The Center for Research Libraries has done webinars on text mining that touch on the issues involved. (http://www.crl.edu/node/89 http://www.crl.edu/events/10203 http://www.crl.edu/events/9347)

      Although in the past most of the data has been provided to researchers on an individual basis, there are moves to make a more streamlined process for access to data for text mining. CrossRef is launching an API for scholarly access to data by the publishers that they represent. You can read more about this in my post (http://dhpraxisf13.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2014/01/15/easy-access-to-data-for-research-text-mining)

  1. I’m very glad to see this project! As a librarian at John Jay, I know that students and librarians alike will benefit from a more thorough, critical examination of databases than the descriptive blurbs we usually use.

    If you’re looking for collaborators, I’d be interested in lending a hand, particularly when you’re examining EEBO. Here’s a really excellent look at the strange history of EEBO from Bonnie Mak at UIUC: http://courseweb.lis.illinois.edu/~bmak/Mak-Archaeology-JASIST.pdf (in press)

    1. Many thanks for writing and for your interest in the project, Robin. We agree that Mak’s piece is worth reading. In fact we cite the article under the history tab in our EEBO section. And we’d be very interested in speaking to you about additional help!

      Thanks again,

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