Subject periodical databases are used in the same way as general periodical databases, but the publications indexed are all focused on a particular subject area and they are often more scholarly and professional journals.

Some subject periodical databases available through Skyline Library include History Resource Center, Literature Resource Center, Business and Company Resource Center, and the Health and Wellness Resource Center, all of which are produced by the Gale Company, and the Proquest Psychology and Proquest Biology databases. All of these databases (and others) are accessible from Skyline College Library website, on the main "Find Articles" page. They all require a PLS library card barcode number to access them from off campus.

Additional periodical databases are accessible through the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL), however they are only accessible if you have a SFPL card. (Any California resident may obtain a free SFPL library card by visiting any one of the 27 SFPL library locations.) The SFPL online databases may be accessed from their "Articles & Databases" page. Some recommended periodical datbases that are available through the SFPL include: J-STOR, an electronic journal archive providing full text of academic journals--especially in history & social sciences-- going back to1838; Art Full Text, covering art-related periodicals; ABI/Inform Global, covering business-related topics; and the Historical New York Times, an incredible resource for historical research, including the full-text of the New York Times for every day from 1851 to 2001.

Two major subject periodical databases, both of which are produced by federal government agencies, are available for free on the Internet:

The major limitation of both of these free databases, however, is that they do not include the full-text of most articles; they only include abstracts.

Selecting and Evaluating Periodical Indexes and Databases

The distinctions between different types of periodical databases often becomes blurred as more and more varied information and features are added to many databases. As more periodicals become available in full-text, for example, they are often added to indexes that previously only contained abstracts. Likewise, abstracts are now being provided by indexes that did not offer that feature in the past. The number and types of publications covered by many indexes are increasing rapidly so that it is not uncommon to find individual databases which include newspapers, popular and subject magazines, and even some scholarly journals. Some periodical abstracting services covering particular subject areas also include books, dissertations and other documents in their coverage.

It is always important to read a description of how many and what types of sources are covered by a particular index. Scanning the list of periodicals indexed gives the user an even better idea of the type of information provided by an index. Print indexes usually include the list of periodicals they index at the front of each volume. Web database periodical lists are usually available on the Web as well and are usually linked to directly from the database.

Lists of periodicals indexed by a database often do not indicate whether all articles from each of the periodicals are actually indexed. Many databases only index the "main" articles (excluding articles such as columns, reviews, editorials, letters or articles less than a certain length) from a majority of the periodicals (called "selective" indexing) and designate a smaller number of periodicals considered more significant to have all articles indexed (referred to as "cover-to-cover indexing.")

Dates of coverage listed for a periodical database can also sometimes be misleading. It is important to check when a database has been most recently updated, but the given date may not indicate the currency of the periodicals actually indexed. The dates of the periodicals covered in a database often vary considerably, depending on the type of database. Online newspapers, for example, are commonly available within a day of their publication--sometimes even the same day--while some academic abstracts often take over a year to index many journals.

Questions to Ask When Selecting a Periodical Index or Database
1) Subject coverage: General or subject-oriented? Popular or academic emphasis? Is a list of periodicals indexed available?

2) Type of records: Citation, abstract or full-text?

3) Dates of coverage: How current? How far back?

4) Extent of articles included: Cover-to-cover or selective?

5) Quality of subject indexing: Is controlled vocabulary used? If so, is a thesaurus or subject index available? What is average number of search terms per article?

6) Availability: Is it available at your local library? Can you access it from home? Is it freely available on the Internet?

Finding Which Library Carries a Periodical

Unlike books in a catalog, the periodicals included in indexes are not based on the holdings of a particular library. To find out which periodicals are carried by a particular library, you can use a "periodicals list" or "serials list". Some libraries include their periodicals in their main catalog, but many maintain a separate alphabetical list of periodical titles. These lists often indicate where each periodical is located in the library. In many libraries older copies of periodicals are available on microfiche or microfilm or, in some cases, they are bound (like books) and are shelved in the regular stacks. In other libraries, back issues are kept in a separate periodicals section. Recent issues of periodicals ("current periodicals") are virtually always kept in a separate section. Many libraries also provide a subject list of their periodicals in addition to the titles list. To find out which periodicals are carried by other libraries in an area, you can often refer to a "union list of periodicals", which includes all periodicals carried by a group of different libraries.

Libraries' periodicals lists are also commonly available on most libraries' online catalogs. In some catalogs, periodical titles are listed in the same index as book titles and in some catalogs periodical titles are listed in a separate indexes.



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last revised: 11-1-05 by Eric Brenner, Skyline College, San Bruno, CA

These materials may be used for educational purposes if you inform and credit the author and cite the source as: LSCI 106 Online Research. All commercial rights are reserved. Send comments or suggestions to: Eric Brenner at