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Best Practices for Developing Search Strategies: What is a Database?

This guide describes 6 strategies used by librarians to perform effective searches for better results.


“A database is a system intended to organize, store, and retrieve large amounts of data easily. It consists of an organized collection of data for one or more uses, typically in digital form.”

This definition is from an older Wikipedia entry (it has since be revised) and is, we think, one of the best and most concise there is.

What you, the end user, has to realize is that you don't interact with just data or content.  That's because a database, as we typically use the term, refers to two things:

  1. Content
  2. Interface
    • i.e. "search engine"

Database Content

Let's take a moment to think about the structure of a database:

  • Databases contain records;   
  • Records contain fields;
    • These fields are defined by the database producer.

What does this mean in terms of how you develop a search?

Most importantly, the fields that are defined are almost always searchable.  In other words, you don't have to throw your search terms out willy-nilly but instead you can create more precise searches that search in specific fields of the database.  This is a very powerful strategy and one which you will see demonstrated multiple times throughout the pages in this guide. 


Database Interfaces

So what is an interface?  Very simply:

  • The interface (or "search engine") defines:
    • How the db looks; and
    • The rules for searching the db.

Ultimately the interface can play a major role in what you retrieve.  

That's why we have these strategies, though.  We want you to be able to maximize your search results by knowing how to utilize both database fields and interfaces.