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The University of Tampa Macdonald-Kelce Library

Introduction to Library Research

Library handouts and a video presentation on starting your research using the resources at the Macdonald-Kelce Library at The University of Tampa.

What You Are Searching

How can you search better? One way is to increase your understanding of the differences between:

  • a web search engine (e.g. Google, Duck Duck Go)
  • stand-alone library database (e.g. Jstor, Web of Science)
  • library-provided discovery service (e.g. Summon)

Search Engines:

A web search engine or Internet search engine searches the entire world wide web. Whether it is Google, Bing or Yahoo – most of us are accustomed to using a search engine daily to find people, products, images, maps, directions, streaming videos and news.

Because books, journals, magazines, images, streaming videos and newspapers are published on the internet and in academic digital repositories, your favorite search engine can discover information that may be appropriate for college-level research. However, a substantial portion of academic, peer-reviewed content remains locked-up behind proprietary library databases. Such content is more relevant and more fully accessible, making it ideal content for college-level research. Results from a web search engine are copious and uneven with respect to relevancy, thus leaving you with the time-consuming task of browsing through a thicket of results.

Library Database:

The library's stand-alone, proprietary databases are primarily designed for college-level research.  They search collections of journals, magazines, newspapers, ebooks, streaming videos, images, maps (and more!) -- within specified subject areas.  They also give you full-text access to hundreds of thousands of subscription-only journals and ebooks.  These databases offer a target rich environment of scholarly, peer-reviewed literature that an "open web" search engine does not.  They offer faceted or limiting options that allow you to specify exactly what you're looking for (source type, full-text, publication date, etc.). They are also indexed to produce a higher relevancy rate, thereby saving you time browsing through its limited but highly targeted results.

Library Discovery Service:

A library-provided discovery service is the principal tool by which scholars become aware of library content that supports the university’s curriculum and research activities. It is an index-based, discovery search tool, designed to discover and access information resources subscribed to or purchased by academic and research libraries. Or, you can think of it this way: it is a place (search box) where you search, discover, locate, and get what you are looking for, where almost all of the library's resources are located. Unlike a stand-alone library database, a library discovery service searches through the content of hundreds of proprietary databases, as well as specially selected open-access content simultaneously. It is a very powerful research tool that offers all the search advantages of a single database, but extends your search through a much larger domain of academic sources, as well as makes content from obscure or little-used databases accessible.

Our library discovery service is called Summon. To learn more about Summon click here


Web Search engine (e.g., GOOGLE)

Stand Alone Library Databases (e.g., Gale)

Library Discovery Service (e.g., Summon)

What domains of knowledge and content you are searching:

Anything and everything published on the internet – scholarly articles, opinion pieces and unsubstantiated content -- such as:

  • personal/social networking/entertainment sites
  • popular (but unedited) information sites, such as Wikipedia
  • government sites
  • educational sites
  • company/product sites
  • news
  • advertisements
  • publisher websites

But most of these will not allow full access to their articles, ebooks, etc. without a subscription

Sources published by academic publishing companies, universities, research groups, etc., all of which is subscription based -- such as:

Each of our databases is different.  Click here to read a brief description of each.

All sources and content contained in most of the library’s databases, as well as selective open access sources available through a Web search engine, such as:

PLUS a selection of open access sources. Click here for a list of the open access sources included within a Summon search.

Content in certain library databases is not searchable within Summon. Click here to see which databases must be searched independently.

Note of caution: You should never assume that all electronic holdings are represented to the fullest extent in any library discovery service.

Where to start?

Your preferred search engine. The sources mentioned below can be of great help to you in making your initial research searches effective and relevant. Ultimately, the choice is yours. You might want to try:

Click here for tips on searching our library databases.

Click here for a brief description of each of our databases.

Summon Logo 

Watch this brief video for an introduction to Summon.

You can learn how to do an advanced search in Summon by watching this brief video.

Full text available?

It depends. There are a growing number of open access scholarly sites out there, but many publishers still require subscriptions to access their content.



Yes!  Because the library pays for subscriptions to these databases, most of your search results will be available to read (and often download) immediately.


Each database is different. Some Library databases provide abstracts that link out to full-text. Contact the library if you are having difficulty finding the full-text of an article.

Yes!  Because the library pays for subscriptions to these databases, most of your search results will be available to read (and often download) immediately.

Quickly limit your results in Summon by selecting "Full Text Online"

When to use:

When you have time to carefully evaluate your results, and/or track down articles that are not available for free.

When you want to access Wikipedia, academic websites, or other open access databases that are not included within a Summon search.



Any time you have a class research assignment and need to access a database or databases designed to retrieve subject information specific to your topic, or is not searchable within Summon.


Click here to discover which databases specifically cover your subject domain. Search using the "All Subjects" dropdown menu.


Click here to see which databases must be searched independently.

Any time you have a class research assignment.

Summon is a great place to start your research since it pulls materials from throughout the library and allows you to search from the single search box.

Summon should always be searched to make sure that you have exhausted all content contained within the library subscription-databases, as well as some open-access content – and to ensure full-text access.

How to find help:

Contact a librarian

Contact a librarian

Contact a librarian

Attribution note: Some of the content and all of the inspiration for creating this table was appropriated from the libanswers webpage of the Richard G. Trefry Library of the American Public University System at


Pros and cons among search engines

A world-wide web search provides the greatest domain of content to be searched. However, sifting through the results requires a great deal of time browsing and filtering -- only to find that a small fraction of your results are peered-reviewed and that few scholarly articles are available as full-text. This is true even of Google Scholar.

A library discovery service provides a search across all library databases (often numbering in the hundreds) of scholarly materials consolidated under one search. One can be confident of retrieving content that is available as full-text.

A single database search usually offers very precise subject searching within a smaller pool of content – but increases the chances of returning better relevancy. In some instances, content of certain databases cannot be discovered through a library discovery service, and therefore searches must be conducted within a single library database. To view a list of  which databases are best searched apart from Summon click here.

The overlapping domains of content among search engines

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