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Bibliographic Databases on the World Wide Web

Information that about print and electronic journal articles or articles in periodicals can generally be found  in bibliographic databases.  Examples of information types found in bibliographic databases generally include title, author, abstract; and may also include links to full-text content. For searches relating to biomedical subject material, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) databases provide access to peer-reviewed bibliographic citations.

Before describing the various types of databases, it might be useful to distinguish between several terms that are sometimes confused when people discuss databases.


Databases are simply collections of data, organized into files (often called tables) that contain records (e.g. a row of data about a specific individual). Records may be further delimited into specific fields (may be classified on the basis of several different criteria (e.g. last name, first name, SS#, street address, city, state, zip, etc.). The files in the database can be searched (queried) through search interfaces that facilitate construction of queries, or directly by using specialized languages (e.g. SQL).

Database providers are companies that provide access to information in groups of databases, generally for a fee. One example of a major database provider is Dialog. Dialog provides access to hundreds of databases through proprietary telnet, dialup, or login via the WWW. Dialog provides information about the contents of each of the databases (or files) in its Blue Sheets, which can be accessed for no cost. Dialog also provides several proprietary interfaces for searching its databases. Ovid is a database provider accessible at UIC to search the full text core collections.

Database search interfaces link the user to the search engine that search the databases. They facilitate searching by allowing the use of natural language terms, by mapping user-generated search terms to appropriate subject headings (indexed databases), and provide user-friendly tools such as menus, check boxes, buttons, and check lists to define search parameters, eliminating much typing of terms in appropriate search syntax. A number of databases provide interfaces that are accessible via the WWW. An example is the Ovid interface used at UIC to search the Core Biomedical Collection (CBC) full text collections and IBIS. Another is the PubMed or Internet Grateful Med (IGM) interfaces used to search the National Library of Medicine's (NLM) MEDLINE bibliographic database.

  • Internet Grateful Med provides free access to MEDLINE, AIDSLINE, HealthSTAR, AIDSDRUGS, AIDSTRIALS, DIRLINE, HISTLINE, HSRPROJ, OLDMEDLINE and SDILINE. Search features: Utilize full range of Medical Subject Heading (MeSH) search features using UMLS Metathesaurus. Ability to limit searches by language, publication type, age groups, etc., using pull-down menus.
  • PubMed provides free access to MEDLINE. Sets of related articles pre-computed for each article cited in MEDLINE Choice of Web search interfaces from simple keywords to advanced Boolean expressions. Field restrictions and MeSH index terms (main topics and subheadings) supported. Linkages to publishers' sites for full-text journals. Approximately 100 journals available, some by subscription only. Clinical query form with built-in search filters for diagnosis, etiology therapy, and prognosis. Links to molecular biology databases of DNA/protein sequences and 3-D structure data.
  • Illinois Bibliographic Information Service (IBIS) is a collection of databases which you can use to find references to recent articles in journals and magazines in many subject areas. Among the available databases are Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, Social Sciences Index, PsychINFO,ERIC, Art Index, Current Contents, and other databases. UIC owns a selection of the journals that are cited in IBIS. To find out if UIC owns a particular magazine or journal, use UICCAT, UIC's online catalog. Do a title search for the name of the magazine or journal. IBIS is only accessible to affiliates of institutional subscribers.

Types of databases can be classified arbitrarily on the basis of structure, accessibility, content or purpose:

  • Flat file A database whose data is organized into a single table or tables that must be searched separately for information in specific records or fields.
  • Relational A database whose tables are linked together by a linking table that contains records or fields common to both or pointers to fields in other tables. This allows advanced searching across multiple tables.


  • Free Databases that can be accessed without charge like library catalogs or many bibliographic databases (e.g. UICCAT, MEDLINE).
  • Proprietary Databases whose contents can be accessed only by paying a fee or subscribing to an organization or database provider (e.g. Chemical Abstracts).

Content or purpose

  • Library or union catalogs Online Catalogs are the primary means of access to a library's collection in a machine-readable format. They are specialized types of databases whose data are bibliographic records standardized into fields, linked to a holdings database containing the contents of the library collection. This allows library users to search by subject, title, author, ISBN, etc. to find information about the book or magazine they are seeking. The holdings data tells the circulation status of the item (i.e., checked out or not) and the library call number. A library's catalog is cumulative, including all materials ( books, journals, audiovisual, etc.) held in a collection at any particular geographic location or locations. A union catalog links to the holdings of a consortium of libraries. UIC's Illinet Online is an example of a union catalog (your browser must have a telnet application associated with it).
    • UICCAT is the electronic "card catalog" for UIC libraries. It contains information about books, magazines, journals, government publications, and other materials owned by the UIC libraries. You can search the collections of the five libraries on UIC's Chicago campus -- the Main Library, Library of the Health Sciences, Architecture and Art Library, Math Library, and Science Library. UICCAT also contains information about materials at the Library of the Health Sciences' regional sites at Peoria, Rockford and Urbana.
    • ILLINET Online (IO - previously called LCS/FBR or MILO) is the combined online catalog of over 800 Illinois libraries. It also includes the circulation status (whether an item is checked out) for materials at UIC and 44 other libraries, known collectively as ILCSO (Illinois Library Computer Systems Organization) libraries. UIC students, faculty, and staff have borrowing privileges at all ILCSO libraries.
  • Bibliographic A bibliographic database contains bibliographic information (title of article, journal name, author, date of publication, volume #, issue, page #, etc.) about various types of publications and formats (print, video, audio, software, etc.). Bibliographic databases are machine-readable form of indexes and abstracts. In bibliographic databases, the base record is a citation to an article, book, chapter, or paper. The citation may include an abstract or summary of the item, subject headings Author tile, publication type, date of publication, and language of the material may also be available.
    • MEDLINE Subject: Biomedicine Type: Bibliographic citations Coverage: All languages; publications from 1966 to the present. Recent references are contained in the current file (MEDLINE); segmented MEDLINE Backfiles (MED90, MED85, MED80, MED75, and MED66) contain older material. The file contains over 8.5 million records. Document Types: Articles from more than 3,700 international biomedical journals (some chapters and articles from selected monographs are found in earlier years). Special Features: MEDLINE is NLM's premier bibliographic database covering the fields of medicine, nursing, dentistry, veterinary medicine, and the preclinical sciences. Journal articles are indexed for MEDLINE, and their citations are searchable, using NLM's controlled vocabulary, MeSH (Medical Subject Headings). MEDLINE contains all citations published in Index Medicus, and corresponds in part to the International Nursing Index and the Index to Dental Literature. Citations include the English abstract when published with the article (approximately 74% of the current file).
    • HealthSTAR (Health Services, Technology, Administration, and Research) Subject: Clinical (emphasizes the evaluation of patient outcomes and the effectiveness of procedures, programs, Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery (Am. Vol) Journal of Clinical Investigation Lancet New England Journal of Medicine Pediatrics Science Some special features of CBC include: full text and graphics; ability to view an outline, move to a selected section of a document such as abstract or methods hyperlinks to references and graphics from within the text ability to retrieve all articles from a particular journal or journal issue in the database limiting to original articles, reviews, and publication year
  • Full text Full text databases are often linked to bibliographic database citations. They contain the articles full text, but may be missing graphics like photos and charts. Generally there is a fee for accessing them, unless access is gained through a university like UIC's Core Biomedical Collection.
    • IDEAL is an online electronic library containing all 175 Academic Press journals. Abstracts and tables of contents are presented in HTML and full-text articles are delivered in Adobe Acrobat format.
  • Data databases This is a catchall term to include a myriad of database types. Examples are databases containing genetic base sequences, amino acid structures, graphic images, patents, business information, statistics, and many other types of information.

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