What is a Database?

The use of databases is an ingenious way of storage and processing of large amounts of information. Databases are specified according to the client’s needs be it for business or personal use.

Databases often abbreviated DB; a database is basically a collection of information organized in such a way that a computer program can quickly select desired pieces of data. You can think of a database as an electronic filing system.

Traditional databases are organized by fields, records, and files. A field is a single piece of information; a record is one complete set of fields, and a file is a collection of records. For example, a telephone book is analogous to a file. It contains a list of records, each of which consists of three fields: name, address, and phone number.

An alternative concept in database design is known as Hypertext. In a Hypertext database, any object, whether it is a piece of text, a picture, or a film, can be linked to any other object. Hypertext databases are particularly useful for organizing large amounts of disparate information, but they are not designed for numerical analysis.

To access information from a database, you need a database management system (DBMS). This is a collection of programs that enables you to enter, organize, and select data in a database.
Increasingly, the term database is used as shorthand for database management system. There are many different types of DBMSs, ranging from small systems that run on personal computers to huge systems that run on mainframes.

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The information in a database is access via a database management system; that are typically an aggregation of programs. The programs arrange, interpret, maintain, and store information; which is the primary goal of databases. The database manager will act as a way of controlling all the processes.

Computer databases typically contain aggregations of data records or files, such as sales transactions, product catalogs and inventories, and customer profiles. Typically, a database manager provides users the capabilities of controlling read/write access, specifying report generation, and analyzing usage. Databases and database managers are prevalent in large mainframe systems but are also present in smaller distributed workstation and mid-range systems such as the AS/400 and on personal computers. SQL (Structured Query Language) is a standard language for making interactive queries from and updating a database such as IBM’s DB2, Microsoft’s SQL Server, and database products from Oracle, Sybase, and Computer Associates.

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Some of the common databases include; Oracle databases, IBM DB2, and Microsoft’s SQL server. The following are the existing sub-classes of databases;

1.General Interest Databases

General interest databases are a great place to begin research or for a general topic. These databases contain the broadest range of materials and include many different subjects and disciplines. Examples of general interest databases include:

  • Academic Search Complete (EBSCO) – Identifies magazine and journals articles in most subject areas including social sciences, humanities, education, computer sciences, engineering, medical sciences, and ethnic studies.
  • Academic OneFile (Infotrac) – This multi-disciplinary database provides access to over 3000 journals, with links to full text for over half of the journals.

2.Discipline-Specific Databases


Discipline-based databases are more focused than general interest databases. These databases include materials in several related subject areas. Materials are usually only from professional/trade publications and scholarly/academic journals. If you are having trouble finding information on your topic, in general, interest databases, try a discipline-based database.

  • Ethnic NewsWatch – Identifies full-text access for 200 newspapers and journals of the ethnic, minority, and native press.
  • PAIS (Public Affairs Information Service)– Contains information sources for the government, political science, social science, and related topics.
  • SocINDEX (EBSCO) – Identifies articles in all areas of sociology including anthropology, criminology, ethnic & racial studies, gender studies, politics, religion, rural sociology, social psychology, and urban studies.
  • Sports Discus – Scholarly and popular information on all aspects of sports, exercise, training, etc.

3.Subject-Specific Databases

If you are doing in-depth research on a topic, you will want to use subject-specific databases. These databases usually only contain materials from professional/trade publications and scholarly/academic journals. Below are some examples, but a list of all available subjects can be viewed on the Online Journals and Database’s page.

  • ABI/INFORM – Identifies articles on business, finance, and management topics from regional, U.S. and international publications.
  • CINAHL (EBSCO) – (Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature) – Authoritative coverage of the literature related to nursing and allied health.
  • Historical Abstracts – Scholarly articles on the history of the world from 1450-present.
  • PsycINFO – Identifies articles, books, and dissertations in psychology and related subjects.

Sourced from: http://www.library.illinois.edu/ugl/howdoi/databasetypes.html