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Library DIY

Choosing a Database

Video: Choosing a Database

Databases are simply collections of information. The type of database differs according to the type of works it contains - whether those works are copyrighted and/or freely accessible. 

Database Type
Web Search Engines




  • Appear to be free (no paywall) to use

  • Access is paid for for by advertisements: the company that produces the search engine collects the user's search history data and sells it to companies who then target the user with specific advertisements

  • Cannot retrieve copyrighted publications

  • Search results are governed by algorithms, which can be configured to promote specific results (advertisements, the most popular websites, etc.)

Generative AI (aka Large Language Model)


Gemini (Google)

Copilot (Microsoft)


  • Basic access appears to be free (no paywall) to use
  • Involves algorithms that can generate text, images, videos, and music that resemble human-like creativity.
  • Able to create new content or data (based on learned patterns) that is similar but not identical to existing data.
  • Can generate factually inaccurate or illogical answers (aka hallucinations)
  • Risk of plagiarism if the model reproduces sentences or paragraphs from its training data
  • Copyrighted information may be included (with or without appropriate permissions)
  • May not include current information
  • Potential to amplify societal biases
  • Data privacy and security issues
Subscription (aka Commercial or Licensed) Databases 
Thrift Library Databases
  • Password-protected (paywall)

  • Fee-based: Access is paid for by student tuition/fees and/or state taxes (for public universities)

  • Provide access to full-text copyrighted material via sophisticated search systems and user-friendly interfaces

  • The companies that produce subscription databases pay licensing fees to copyright holders (so their material can be legally included), database publishers, and database creators 

Open Access (OA) Repositories

Institutional Repositories (IR; Example: Clemson University's Tiger Prints IR)

Digital Libraries (Example: Digital Public Library of America, DPLA)

  • Free to use (no paywall)

  • Contains some copyrighted work that copyright holders have made openly accessible by waiving restrictions

  • Access is paid for by organizations such as universities or libraries that wish to make certain materials available to the public

  • OA works are often discoverable via Google Scholar or Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ)

For more information, read Online Searching: A Guide to Finding Quality Information Efficiently and Effectively by Karen Markey and Cheryl Knott.

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