ASSOCIATES (2020, November, v. 27, no. 2)


Some Database Basics for Some Database Novices

Michael D. Brooks
Saint Joseph’s University
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

One day you’re working in acquisitions, cataloging, interlibrary loan, or managing the stacks, and then the next day you find yourself providing public service research assistance to patrons, students, and faculty using your library’s databases.

Databases. You know, those digital versions of the old-style hard copy indexes people used before computers became commonplace? Well, what happens if you don’t use them but are asked to start showing patrons how to use them? Panic? Possibly. Hyperventilate? Maybe. What about hit the ground running? Definitely.

Last year, all of my library’s support staff were selected to attend training sessions to improve our public service skills. Drawing from my years of experience working in reference, at public service desks, acquisitions, cataloging, technical processing, running my own library while teaching, earning certificates, certifications, and an advanced degree, I thought: “I got this.”

After completing training, I discovered much of what I had learned related more directly to providing specialized services aligned with the academic studies of students and faculty research. My skillset was geared toward configuring documents for printing, discovering why they didn’t print, solving software incompatibility issues, explaining why the wireless network wasn’t working, interfacing with IT and vendor service technicians, getting equipment and devices that were down up and running again, or solving staff technology issues. Basically, technology support and troubleshooting. Nothing related to database research. Then COVID-19 hit.

The arrival of a global pandemic, coupled with staff departures, created a new paradigm: providing remote virtual assistance to library patrons.

The support staff was given a refresher course in public service training, and the librarians joined us. Together, we participated in hypothetical scenarios preparing to support our academic community in a remote environment. Then, we were all assigned the task of providing online research support. Part of that support meant working with databases. Yikes!

So, what if working with databases is not your forte — especially if you’ve never had to use them or it’s been a while since you last used them? Fortunately, there are resources that can help. I found a few that have helped me.

One of those resources is The Online Library Learning Center created by the University System of Georgia. The site is no longer maintained, but some of the information regarding databases is still relevant and beneficial to novice database users. The site is divided into eleven sections called units, but you’ll only need to be concerned with one: Unit 4: A Primer on Databases and Catalogs. And though the site is somewhat dated and inclined toward the inception of early computer databases, the rudimentary information is still useful to give you a foundation to start from.

Library Databases is another useful resource. It’s a page on the Spartanburg Community College Library tutorial website. The information contained within is simple and straightforward.

If you’re still unsure what a database is or how it works, Berkeley College has a plain and simple answer among their Frequently Asked Questions. LibAnswers.

But if you’re a visual learner and need to see demonstrated examples of databases and how to use them, just do a YouTube search as I did here and run through the offerings until you find something that satisfies your angst. Then use what you find to explore your library’s databases and practice, practice, practice until you gain greater confidence in assisting newbies and more skilled researchers with obtaining information useful to them.