Using Databases

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What is a Database?

It is a research tool that contains specific types of literature not found in the library catalogue. Depending on the scope, a database can be used to locate the following:

  • journal articles
  • magazine articles
  • newspaper articles
  • ebooks
  • book chapters
  • book/film/theatre reviews
  • images
  • individual poems and stories
  • ephemeral documents such as reports, studies, and broadcast transcripts

Databases can be searched using:

  • a chosen topic (using keywords and subject headings)
  • a chosen author
  • a known title.

Selecting a Database

University of Toronto Libraries (UTL) subscribe to over 500 electronic databases. They cannot be searched using search engines such as Google.

To access the databases:

  1. Go to the UTL homepage.
  2. Click on Subjects A–Z on the left side of the page, below the search box.
    selecting an e-index step 2
  3. The databases are arranged alphabetically by discipline. Click on the name of the discipline you are researching. For instance, if you are looking for articles on German expressionism, select Cinema and Film.
    selecting an index step 3
  4. A list of databases will open on next page. Consult the description of each database to evaluate its scope, dates, and other elements to determine whether the database is suitable for your research.
    selecting an index step 4

Note: while all databases listed will search for articles within their subject area, different databases will cover different titles of journals, magazines, newspapers, etc.

Searching Databases

Grouping Keywords

  • Use and to combine keywords for a more precise search. For example, to search for articles about the Kyoto protocol in Canada, use kyoto and canada (capitalization is unimportant).
    general rules step 1


  • A search technique called truncation will allow you to search for many variants of a word. For example, if you search Canad*, the search will contain Canada, Canadian, Canadians, etc.

Finding Alernative Keywords

  • Be creative with your search terms, especially when searching by keyword. For example, if deindustrialization is not giving you many or any results, try searching for similar terms (e.g., disinvestment and industry or decline and industry).
  • Once you find a relevant article, check what terms and/or subject headings have been used in the record for the article, which can also be used as keywords.
    general rules step 4

Limiting Search Results

  • Multiple search results can be narrowed down by the type of publication (newspaper article, book chapter, etc.), subject, language, author, dates of publication and many other categories.
  • Search results can also be filtered to peer-reviewed and scholarly sources.
  • Depending on the interface of a database, filters are either located on the right or left side of the page that displays results.
    limiting search results step 3

Retrieving Publications


  • Many articles can be either directly printed or dowloaded in the PDF format from the database by clicking on the title of a search result.
  • In some databases where the resource is not available, it may be necessary to click on the Get It! UTL button to download the publication.
    retriving articles step 1

In Print

  • Book, book chapters, and older articles may not be available in full text online and print copies will have to be located in a library.
  • Consult the database for necessary bibliographic details.
  • Books: title of the book, page numbers, dates of publication. Search by Title in the library catalogue.
  • Journals: volume, issue, date, and page numbers. Search by Journal Title in the library catalogue.

updated by: Agatha Barc

Last updated: September 9, 2015

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