Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
Ask A Librarian

Databases Search Tips: Overview


  • The key to being a savvy online searcher is to use common search techniques that you can apply to almost any database, including article databases, online catalogs and even commercial search engines.
  • This is important because searching library databases is a bit different from searching Google.
  • The techniques described in this section will enable you to quickly retrieve relevant information from the thousands of records in a database.
  • When you search a database and do not get the results you expect, Ask a Librarian for advice.  Library staff are happy to help you find what you need.

What Is a Database?

A database is an organized collection of records. The collected records can be in any format such as printed, electronic, visual, audio, statistical, or combinations

A database can be as simple as name entires in an address book or as complex as a databank that provides information related to a subject discipline in a combination of formats.

Free Databases & Fee Databases

Generally there are two types of databases: free and fee. Google Scholar and PubMed are examples of free databases. The information is open for everyone to access free of charge. Fee databases, however, charge you to search their records for the information comes from commercial publishers and are packaged by commercial database vendors. Most of the library databases are fee-based. Fortunately, libraries pay for access to these databases and make them freely available to our students, faculty and staff.


Thanks to Peter Cohn at MIT Library for granting permission to adapt his guide.