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Google vs. Library Database

Have you ever wondered the difference between searching in Google vs. a library database? This guide will walk you through why these sources are different!

Differences between Google and Library Databases

How you get results

Google Library Database
  • Google uses a variety of factors to get you your search results. Some of those factors include your previous search history and your location.
  • Google ranks your results for you based on the information Google thinks you want. Google uses a complex series of programs called algorithms which will analyze your previous activity in order to figure out which sources to show you first.
  • Google also considers what other people all over the world have searched in order to find you results.
  • If you always read/click on the same types of articles with the same subjects or viewpoints, Google will rank these sources higher, which can make it harder to find sources from other sources/viewpoints that you don't normally read/click on. See Beware Online "Filter Bubbles" (TED talk) for more information.
  • Library Databases are more neutral with their search results. Library Databases do not store records of your previous searches or your location the way that Google does.
  • Library Databases rank results by their relevancy to the search terms you used and any filters you have turned on for your search. 
  • Since library databases only rank results by relevancy to your search terms, it is easier to find articles from multiple perspectives.
  • This gives you the power to look through your results and decide what information is the most important to you.

Types of sources 

Google Library Database
  • Google searches what is published on the internet to find you results. This means that a search in Google might come up with millions of results in different formats, which may or may not be relevant to your topic.
  • Sometimes academic sources that you need for your classes will not be searchable in Google.
  • If you are able to find academic sources in Google (and it is possible!) what will probably happen is you will not be able to read the full source: you will likely be asked to pay money to read the entire source, because academic sources are usually only available through a subscription to a periodical or a database.
  • Library Databases search beyond content that is published on the internet. They contain formally published work such as academic journals, magazines, newspapers, books, etc. that are often not available in an internet search (because the publishers of these works need to make money, they don't give away their product for free).
  • Most academic journals are subscription based, meaning just like a magazine or a streaming service, you need to pay for a subscription in order to view the content. While you might find some magazine or newspaper content online for free, many articles will require a paid subscription or they will block your access after a certain number of free articles. Similarly, online books usually have to be paid for in order to view more than a preview of their content.
  • The library subscribes to this published content through our library databases. As a student at SCC, your tuition helps pay for access to the databases, and they are free to you as long as you're an SCC student. When you graduate, you can use the databases your public library or your employer provide (or visit an academic library that has visitor's access).

Ways of searching

Google Library Database
  • In Google, you can search by a full sentence or a description, and Google's search algorithm will find you results based on your search.
  • Sometimes, that means that Google is just guessing at what they think you are looking for.
  • Google will often give you thousands of results, however, not all of these results will be credible sources or actually related to your topic.
  • Google does not have filters or a way to narrow down the thousands/millions of results your search finds, so you have to rely on the Google algorithm and use what it ranks first.
  • In a library database, you would need to search by a keyword: a significant word or short phrase related to your topic.
  • You can add multiple keywords to your database searches, meaning you can make your search very specific to your topic.
  • Library databases also have great filters that you can use to refine your search to find exactly what you're looking for.