Skip to main content

Evaluating Internet-Based Information: Library databases vs. search engines

Comparison Table

The table below compares the various differences between library databases and Internet search engines:

Library Databases

(e.g., Academic Search PremierMasterFile Premier)

Internet Search Engines

(e.g. Google & Bing)

Types of Information Retrieved

  • Scholarly journal articles
  • Popular magazine articles
  • Newspaper articles
  • Reference book articles (e.g., directories, encyclopedias)
  • Books
  • No sponsors or ads

When to Use

  • Best for college level research.
  • When you need to find credible information quickly.
  • Best for personal information needs including shopping and entertainment.
  • When you have time to more carefully evaluate information found on the open web.

Creditability / Review Process

  • Articles and books written by journalists or experts in a professional field.
  • All material in database is evaluated for accuracy and credibility by subject experts and publishers.
  • Reviewed and updated regularly.
  • Lack of control allows anybody to publish their opinions and ideas on the Internet.  
  • Not evaluated (for the most part).  Need to more carefully evaluate web sites for bias, accuracy, and completeness.
  • Many sites are not updated regularly and can become outdated.

Cost / Accessibility

  • Most information found through a search engine is free. 
  • Library databases cannot be accessed through search engines or the open web.
  • Many web sites found through Internet search engines contain licensed, proprietary information and require you to logon with a user account.  You must already be a member or pay for a subscription in order to access the material from these web sites.

Usability

  • The organization and various search capabilities of library databases allow users to search for and retrieve focused and relevant results.
  • Less ability to search for and retrieve precise results using search engines like Google.  Need to wade through a “grab bag” of results.

Constancy / Permanence / Stability

  • Published content from journals, magazines, newspapers and books does not change.
  • Most material remains in database for a significant length of time and can be easily retrieved again.
  • Web site content can often change.
  • Web pages and sites may disappear for a number of reasons.  May not be able to retrieve the same content at a later time.

Citing

  • Many databases include a citation tool that will automatically generate an APA or MLA style reference for the article you select.  You may still need to “tweak” this citation but these tools serve as a good starting point for citing your articles in a particular format.
  • Most web sites found on the open web do not provide a citation tool or an already formatted APA or MLA style reference for the web pages on their site.  You will need to start your citation from scratch using APA or MLA style manuals or handouts from your instructor or the library. 

Search Engines vs. Library Databases for College Research

Kathleen Ennis, Library Educator at Modesto Junior College, describes the advantages of using a library research database over doing a broad internet search.

What Are Library Databases and Why You Need THem

Created by Yavapai College Library, Prescott, AZ. A Yavapai College student explains the benefits of using library databases for research over search the Web.

Handout & Worksheet

Thanks to the reference library staff at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in in Richmond, Virginia, for the use of this LibGuide page and the handouts linked below.

Library Databases vs. Google Handout

Library Databases vs. Google Worksheet