Digital databases the forefront of academic research

September 20, 2012 — by Sophie Mattson

As technology pushes forward, students find themselves spending less time searching for information on the shelves of libraries and more time on the Internet.

To keep up with the digital revolution, librarian Kevin Heyman has used funds from the Parent Teacher Student Organization, the SHS Foundation and the School Site Council to allow students access to eight digital databases: Advanced Placement Source, Literary Reference Center, Testing and Education Reference Center, ABC CLIO Social Studies Databases, Gale Virtual Reference Library, Student Research Center, Science Reference Center and NoodleTools.

“A big way that research has changed from books to digital resources is the creation of databases,” Heyman said. “Databases are repositories of information, some of which you can’t find for free on the Internet, and they organize information in better ways.”

In addition to its 12 databases, students can use academic directories, such as INFOMINE, which is sponsored by the University of California, the Cal State University system and by numerous private colleges.

“If you are going to search for certain scholarly topics [on the academic directories], you’ll find things that are on the Internet, but since you are searching a smaller set of information you have a better chance of finding what you really need,” Heyman said.

These directories operate like search engines, but narrow down the number of sources.

“They go online and find good sites and good sources and put them into the database, while companies like Google and Yahoo catalog everything,” Heyman said.

A downside to the databases is that, while Google and Yahoo are free, the school has to pay for these databases.

According to Heyman, database subscriptions cost in the neighborhood of $8,000 to $9,000 per year.

The cost may seem high, but Heyman monitors the number of documents accessed by students to determine if the school is getting the most out of its subscriptions.

“In the last few years we’ve had between 85,000 to 95,000 documents accessed,” Heyman said. “When you compare the cost with the number of documents and the accessibility to students, it really comes down to pennies per page,”

According to Heyman, when he began working here as a librarian five years ago, many schools had access to digital resources while Saratoga had none.

Without access to digital databases, students would spend more time searching for books in the library or weeding through what they found on Google.

“I started introducing [the databases] five years ago and [the databases] have slowly grown,” Heyman said. “Before I got here students relied on print resources and what they could find on Google.”

History teacher Matt Torrens finds that the databases are extremely useful to his students and designs assignments around the usage of primary and secondary sources that can be found on the digital databases.

According to Torrens, his students use the databases for their annotated bibliographies and also to build DBQs [document-based questions].

Senior Sanjna Verma thinks that the digital databases are valuable, but they can be confusing to access.

“There are so many passwords and things to keep track of; it does make using the resources a pain, but I definitely like that I can utilize them,” she said.

Senior Rohan Cotah is less positive.

“The databases limit the amount of information that students can learn,” Cotah said. “They are also confusing to operate in comparison to using Google Search.”

Although the library’s databases may not be as large as those of many colleges, Heyman finds that student use of the databases helps prepare them for college classes.

“When you show up at UC Davis and they have 890 databases and your biology professor expects you to know which science databases to find the articles in, you’ll be able to do that,” Heyman said.