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DELA Library Orientation: 3. Databases

Database Basics

Welcome to the wonderful world of database searching! There is a lot of information in this tab, so take your time, study the videos and tutorials, maybe take some notes, and then dive in and get your hands dirty. Even if you have lots of experience searching library databases, you may still learn something new. If you have no or little experience, don't panic! The databases are easier to use than you might think. Take it one step at a time, and try every tip, trick, and tool on this page at least once!

You can get to our database list by clicking on this button on Foley's home page: 

Databases Button

We have over three hundred databases, many of which focus on specific areas of study. The ones you will use most are probably ERIC and Professional Development, both of which focus on education.

What is a database, anyway?

In the context of a library, it usually means a collection of articles which the library pays to access (and allows you to access for free!). Most of these articles cannot be found on the general internet (so Google won't find them). To learn more, watch this video, created by a student at Yavapai College.

Wondering what "peer review" means? Watch this video from the librarians at North Carolina State University.

You're ready to try a basic search! This video walks you through a keyword search in an EBSCO database.

Not every database stores the full text of an article. Sometimes a database only stores the citation and abstract. This is useful for you to find out if the article is something you want, but not so useful if you decide that yes, you do want it.

But don't worry! Foley has a tool called that searches all of our other online databases and resources and connects you to the full article if we have it somewhere else. Look for a link in your results list. In EBSCO databases it looks like this:

Clicking this link will take you to "Periodicals@Foley," our internal list of all the periodicals (journals, newspapers, and magazines) we have access to, in whatever form, electronic or physical, that we have it. In this case, we can see that we have access to this article in several other databases.

Just click the link and you'll be taken directly to that database's entry for the article, with the attached full text.

If we don't have full text, you're still in luck! Another magic link appears for ordering the document by interlibrary loan:

See the section of this guide on interlibrary loan for more info.

If you are searching for a particular article or journal, it would take forever to search every single database we have. Fortunately, we have a quick index of every single journal, magazine, newspaper etc. that we have and where to access it, whether in print or online. This is called Periodicals@Foley (though we hope to change the name soon to something that makes more sense, like "Journal Finder!").

When an article you want isn't available from one of Foley Library's resources, or, say, when you find an article in a web search but the publisher wants you to pay $35 to download it, the library's Interlibrary Loan department comes to the rescue!

There are two ways to order an article using Interlibrary Loan. The first is to click on the link to Check Gonzaga Libraries for Full Text Options that accompanies a citation in a database:

If we don't have the article in any other database, you'll see a link to request the article via interlibrary loan:

Click there to get to the sign-in page for Interlibrary Loan. Once you sign in, the system pre-fills a form with all the information needed to order the article.

Select your Needed Before date and your Department (Organizational Leadership, Religion, etc.) and Status (Graduate, Undergrad, etc.), then Submit the request.

What happens next? Our interlibrary loan department identifies a library that owns the journal and sends the request to them. That library scans the article into a PDF and, once it's uploaded to your ILL account, you get an email that the article is available.  An uploaded ILL document is only available for 30 days or five views, whichever comes first, so it's a good idea to download the PDF right away! Oh, and even though the name of the service is interlibrary loan, articles are yours to keep. Books, on the other hand, do need to be returned . . . but you knew that already.

The other way to order an article requires a bit more effort, but it works just as well.  Log in to ILL, click Create Request, and select the type of item you are requesting: Article, Book/Media, or Book Chapter. Fill in the form with as much information as you can and submit the request.

We can get almost any article requested through ILL. It is seamless, fast (but not instant), and free to you, so don't let that perfect article get away!

Google Scholar Search

Google Scholar is Google's system for searching for scholarly content across the internet.

Link Google Scholar to Foley's full text!

Google Scholar tries to find PDF and .doc full text when it can, but it mostly finds citations, not full text. However, you can connect Google Scholar to your Gonzaga account! This will allow you to almost instantly access the full text if we have it. CLICK HERE for directions.

Google Scholar can be a great tool for some things, and a poor tool for others.


Things Google Scholar is good for:

1. Google Scholar allows you to see how many times an article has been cited, and by whom. Just click "Cited by . . ." in the search result listng for the article you are interested in to bring up a list of every citation Google can see.

NOTE: this is not an exhaustive list of every time the article has been cited, but only of every citation visible to Google. See #1 below for more info.

Why is this useful? Well, you already know that you can look at the works cited or bibliography page of an good article to find other useful articles on your subject. That's looking backward in time to articles and research that preceded the one you are reading. By looking up the article you are reading in Google Scholar, you can do the same thing but look forward in time, to articles and research that followed it and hopefully built upon it.

2. Google Scholar is great for getting a quick-n-dirty overview of a topic. We're all used to Google's keyword-heavy searching. Searching Google-style in Google Scholar is a great way to find relevant articles quickly, which can help you get a feel for the journals, terminology, and issues surrounding your subject of research. You can then use that knowledge to search more deeply in a subject-specific database!

3. Google Scholar can find "gray literature," like conference proceedings or unpublished works, that are often not indexed in scholarly databases.

4. Google Scholar is a good place to go if you have a partial citation: often Google's magic search algorithm can find the full citation for you. 


Things Google Scholar is poor at:

1. Google Scholar cannot see anything that is not available or cited on the surface internet. This means that anything that is behind a paywall — like scholarly databases! — is invisible to Google. A majority of scholarly work is not visible from the surface internet.

2. Google Scholar has no subject headings and few ways to refine a search. This makes it more difficult to zoom in on just the right results.

3. Google Scholar has no way to search by discipline. Searching is almost entirely keyword based, and your keywords may apply to many disciplines.

3. Not everything Google Scholar finds is actually scholarly. Google's magic algorithm takes into account indicators like whether the article has been cited elsewhere, but at the end of the day it's just a guess.

Advanced Database Use

While searching:

  • Break your search into keywords. Keywords are the most important concepts in your topic and their synonyms. For example:
    • Your topic is: What killed the dinosaurs?
      • Some possible keywords are: dinosaurs, extinction
    • Your topic is: Using drama across the curriculum in a middle school classroom.
      • Some possible keywords are: drama, theater, curriculum, subjects, middle school, elementary, integrated curriculum, etc. 
  • Limit to peer-reviewed journals. That's what your professors expect you to use in your research.
  • Narrow your search. Add a date range, keyword, etc. 
  • Expand keywords with truncation:  bicycl* (retrieves bicycle, bicycles, bicycled, bicycling).
  • Read the abstract of an article to find out if it really is beneficial to your research. The abstract is a summary of the article! It saves you a ton of time to scan this first. If the article is relevant to your research, then you can read the whole thing. If it's not, move on!
  • Ask for help:

Database Searching Tips from Foley Librarians

  • LOOK AT THE WHOLE SCREEN FIRST. Before you start searching in an unfamiliar database, look at the whole search screen first. What search tools are available to you? Are there check boxes, limiters, subject headings, indexes, a link to get help?
  • KEEP IT SIMPLE. Search with only the most necessary keywords from your topic and don't use all of them at once. Example (keywords in italics): What are the effects of global warming on the animals in national parks?  You might want to get more specific and search for:  climate changewildlifeYellowstone
  • FIND A FEW (2-3) RELEVANT ARTICLES. You don't need to start with 20 articles; find a couple of very relevant ones and read those first. You may discover other topics, authors or references or you may decide to change your topic.
  • SEARCH USING SUBJECT HEADINGS.  Browse a database’s Thesaurus or list of Subject Terms to find subject headings relevant to your topic OR use a subject heading link in an article record to search for more articles with that heading. The Using Subject Headings tutorial below explains it better.

Diagram of boolean operators


 “Boolean Searching”  uses the words “AND” “OR” “NOT” to limit or expand a search in a database. Most of the time, you will use “AND”.

  • I want articles about adolescents with self-esteem issues. My search strategy is:  self esteemAND adolescents.  This retrieves only articles where ALL these words appear within the database record.
  • I want articles about school administrators, but I don't want to miss any that use the wordprincipals. My search strategy is:  principals OR administrators.  This retrieves articles where either of these words appear within the database record.
  • I want articles about recreational activities, but I'm not interested in hiking.  My search strategy is: recreation NOT hiking. This retrieves articles that include the word recreation, but leaves out the ones that also have the word hiking.
  • I can combine Boolean operators if necessary. If I want articles about administrators of middle schools. My search strategy is:  (principals OR administrators) AND "middle schools".  The parentheses creates a set of article records that have either the word principals or the wordadminstrators. To get the articles about middle schools from within that set, I narrow my search with AND.

Example screenshot

In EBSCO databases, the MyEBSCO folder can help you to keep track of articles you are interested in.

In addition to journal articles, the ERIC database contains a variety of other resources called ERIC Documents. These can be special reports, white papers, articles, curriculum materials, and even complete books. Most are available online through  When searching the ERIC database through Foley Library, you will see the Full Text from ERIC link on most of the items classified as ERIC Documents. Click on the link to get the full text.

Example screenshot

Note that the Full Text from ERIC option is usually the only way to get the full text of the articles where it appears. Since these articles are stored outside of Foley at, our internal SFX search won't find them in Foley's collections. So if you see Full Text from ERIC option, use it instead of SFX.

How to Use Search Alerts in an EBSCO Database

Search Alerts provide automatic e-mail notification whenever new search results become available. You can also retrieve those alerts to perform the search immediately, instead of waiting for the alert to run. There are two ways to save your search as an alert.

Note: To create an alert, you must log in to My EBSCOhost to create a search alert.

If you do not log in prior to setting up a Journal or Search Alert you will be prompted to do so. If you do not have a My EBSCOhost personal folder, you can set one up by clicking on I'm a new user. It is free and signing up is quick and easy.‚Äč


Creating a Search Alert

To save your search as an alert from the Share link:

  1. Run a search and view your search results.

  2. Click the Share link and select E-mail Alert from the resulting pop- up menu. The Create Alert window appears over the result list.

  3. If you have not done so already, click the Sign in link in the alert window to sign into your My EBSCOhost folder.

  4. Set your alert parameters and click Save Alert.

Note: When you create a Search Alert, the sort selection of the result list is honored for your alert. For example, if your result list is sorted by relevancy when you create your alert, your alert will be sorted by relevancy when it is delivered.

In the E-mail area of the window:

  1. Subject - In the Subject field, enter a brief explanation that will appear in the subject line of the Alert e-mail.

  2. E-mail from - Defaults to: EPAlerts@EPNET.COM. You can enter a different "From" e-mail address if desired.

  3. E-mail to - Enter your E-mail Address. If you are entering multiple e-mail addresses, place a semicolon between each e-mail address.

  4. Hide addresses from recipients - If you select this option, the e-mail addresses you enter will be placed into the BCC (Blind Copy) field of the e-mail, rather than the "To" field.

  5. E-mail format - Select Plain Text or HTML.

In the General Settings area of the window:

  1. Frequency - Select how often the search will be run:

    • Once a day (the default)
    • Once a week
    • Bi-weekly
    • Once a month
  2. Results format - Select a results format for your alert.

    • Brief
    • Detailed
    • Bibliographic Manager
  3. Articles published within the last - To limit which articles are searched, select one:

    • One month
    • Two months
    • Six months
    • One year
    • No limit (the default)

Note: To view all available alert settings, click the Advanced Search link.

To save a search as an alert from the Search Alert/History window:

  1. Run a search and view your search results.

  2. Click the Search History/Alerts link, and then click the Save Searches/Alerts link. The Save Search Alert Screen appears. If you have not already signed in your personal account, you will be prompted to do so.

On the Save Search Alert Screen

  1. Enter a Name and Description for the Alert.

  2. To run the Alert against a different database, select the Databases from the drop-down list. (Hold down the control key and left-click your mouse to select multiple databases.)

  3. Search strategy - The search terms are displayed. (not editable)

In the Save Search As area of the screen:

  1. To save the search as an Alert that can be automatically run, click the Alert radio button. The Save Search Alert Screen appears.

  2. To select how often the search will be run, from the Frequency drop-down list, select one:

    • Once a day (the default)
    • Once a week
    • Bi-weekly
    • Once a month
  1. To limit which articles are searched, from the Articles published within the last drop-down list, select one:

    • One month
    • Two months
    • Six months
    • One year
    • No limit (the default)
  1. In the Run Alert for field, select one:

    • One month
    • Two months
    • Six months
    • One year (the default)

In the Alert Options area of the screen:

  1. Select the Alert results format: Brief, Detailed, or Bibliographic Manager.

  2. To limit EBSCOhost access to only the articles in alert (rather than the entire site), mark the checkbox to the left of this field.

    Note: When this box is marked, the folder feature will not be available to users accessing articles from the alert.

In the E-mail Options area of the screen:

  1. Indicate how you would like to be notified. Select one:

    • E-mail all alerts and notices (the default)
    • E-mail only creation notice
    • No e-mail (RSS only) - if you select this option, the remaining E-mail Properties will be hidden (because they are not necessary for RSS).
  1. Enter your E-mail Address. If you are entering multiple e-mail addresses, place a semicolon between each e-mail address.

  2. Hide addresses from recipients - if you select this option, the e-mail addresses you enter will be placed into the BCC (Blind Copy) field of the e-mail, rather than the "To" field.

  3. In the Subject field, enter a brief explanation that will appear in the subject line of the Alert e-mail.

  4. Title - you can optionally enter a title for the e-mail. The default value for the Title field is: EBSCOhost Alert Notification.

  5. E-mail [From] address - Defaults to: EPAlerts@EPNET.COM. You can enter a different "From" e-mail address if desired.

  6. Select the E-mail format to use: Plain Text or HTML.

  7. To have your search string included with your results, mark the Include query string in results checkbox. To include the alert frequency, mark the frequency checkbox.

  8. When you have finished making changes, click the Save button.

Related terms: alert, EBSCO Discovery Service, EDS


Editing a Search Alert

To edit a search alert:

  1. From the Advanced Search Screen, click on the Search History link below the Find field.

  2. Click the Retrieve Alerts link.

  3. Sign in to My EBSCOhost.

  4. Click the Search Alerts link.

  5. Locate the alert you want to edit.

  6. Click on the Edit Alert link to access the Save Alert page.

  7. Edit the alert.

  8. Click Save.

Note: If you would like to edit the search terms or limiters/expanders of your alert, click the Edit link in the Search History box at the bottom of the alert. 


Deleting a Search Alert

You can delete your Alert by logging in to your My EBSCOhost personal folder (once you are logged in to EBSCOhost).

To delete an alert:

  1. Click the Sign in link in the upper left corner of the screen.

  2. Click the Folder link.

  3. Your folder contents display, with a menu located on the left-hand column.

  4. Click Search Alerts.

  5. Mark the check box for each alert you would like to delete.

  6. Click the Delete Items button. The selected items are removed from the folder.


Viewing a Search Alert

EBSCOhost alerts are set to display the first 100 results. If your alert produces more than 100 results, and you want to view the remaining results, there are two ways to view all results from your alerts.

Click on the persistent link in the alert email to view all available results or view them by using the Retrieve Alerts feature in EBSCOhost.

To view all results from an alert in EBSCOhost:

  1. From the Advanced Search Screen, click the Search History link.

  2. Click the Retrieve Alerts Link.

  3. Sign in to your personal account.

  4. Locate the alert you want to view, and click on the date of the alert. Your search results will appear.



  • If you do not remember your My EBSCOhost login values, click Sign in and select either I forgot my password or I forgot my user name and passwordfor assistance.

  • If you are receiving a search alert that someone else has set up for you, only the creator of an alert can stop the alert from being sent.

  • For additional assistance, Contact EBSCO's Technical Support Department.

Get Your Hands Dirty!

Get your hands dirty icon

  1. Think of a topic or question to research. Identify keywords for your topic, include synonyms.
  2. Log into ERIC (EBSCO) from the Foley Library website. Search with some of the keywords you identified.
  3. Select an article from your results list and open the Detailed Record.
    • Read the abstract.
    • Look at the subject headings.
    • Check for other significant information.
    • The Detailed Record will help you decide if an article is appropriate for your research. Always read the abstract of an article, but also look for other important information such as the language and document type (research article, ERIC Document, book review, conference paper, etc.) 
  4. Use the ERIC Thesaurus to browse for subject headings on your topic. Are they different from your keywords? Try some in a search.
  5. Refine your search by adding limits: peer reviewed, date, subject headings, etc.
  6. Try the same search process in the Professional Development Collection database.
  7. Go to Periodicals@Foley and search for Canadian Psychology or a journal or magazine of your choice. Is it online?
  8. Use Periodicals@Foley to find the full text of this specific article.
    • Holloway, S. L., & Pimlott-Wilson, H. (2013). Parental involvement in children's learning: Mothers' fourth shift, social class, and the growth of state intervention in family life. Canadian Geographer57(3), 327-336. doi:10.1111/cag.12014

Quiz Yourself!

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