Thanks to the Boulder Colorado Public Library and Reference Librarian Gina Scioscia for letting us use their information on Databases for this page!!
It can be confusing to navigate all these different types of resources!
Here are some key differences between the two resources:
Why should you use databases?
In the most basic terms, a database is defined as "a collection of related data organized for convenient access, generally via a computer system." When you think of a "database" you might imagine something that the DMV uses to keep track of names, addresses, and drivers license numbers. In a library, however, the term database refers to web driven "programs" where a company or publisher has gathered together "a collection of related data" like newspaper articles, automotive repair manuals, and so on. Databases allow you to access various kinds of information in a variety of formats.
Perhaps most usefully, databases are being used to index and store magazine, newspaper, and book articles. Remember the old Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature? Chances are that if the article you are looking for was published in the last twenty years, you can use a database like Infotrac or Ebsco to search for the article (even if you only remember that it was about fish), display it on the computer screen, then print it out or email it. Also, you can find other articles about fish in other magazines across a range of dates. Databases make searching for information efficient and convenient.
So, when librarians use the term "database" they really mean: a convenient way to access information through the web. This last part, "through the web," usually confuses people. Are databases the same thing as the Internet? No, they are not. You are using websites and "surfing" the Internet, but only in a manner of speaking. In the case of the Boulder Public Library, the website serves as a "portal" for patrons inside and outside of the library to access the databases.
It is important to distinguish databases from the Internet because the Internet poses two problems. First, the information is very unreliable. Can you really trust that the person putting information up at www.Iamaknowitall.com really knows what they are talking about? While there is something to be said for the freedom of information that the Internet provides, it does have its down side. The second problem that the Internet poses is that all of the really good information on the Internet does not come for free. Have you noticed that a newspaper's website will charge up to two dollars to access an article from its archive? The Internet maintains the illusion of being "free," when in most cases what you really want comes with a price tag attached.
So now that we've disparaged the good name of the Internet, let's discuss databases. The content that you find in databases is "controlled." That means that the information on databases has been reviewed by competent, knowledgeable people. Also, most databases are run by distinguished publishers. Gale, for instance, has published reference books for many years. In many cases, publishers are converting information from their reference books into electronic formats that are accessible in a database format. This all adds up to one thing: reliable information that is easy to find.
One way that publishers ensure the accuracy of their databases is that they require subscriptions. Luckily for you, the library patron, your public library has absorbed this cost (with your tax and sales tax dollars of course!). Each time you use a database, it is "free." The companies that offer these databases have special agreements with libraries that allow patrons to access their databases from home. All this requires is a current, valid Boulder Public Library card. Since the library has already "paid" for the database, your valuable time will not be wasted dodging annoying pop-up eyes, flashing banners, and advertisements.
Every year the Boulder Public Library finds new ways to broaden the scope of the content we offer through databases. Databases provide a convenient way to really expand what a library can offer because you are no longer confined by walls (both building them and maintaining them). We hope you enjoy this unique "library" experience.