Databases vs. Search Engines

The following table explains some of the differences between Databases and Search Engines. Glancing at the table, it is easy to see how a database can actually save Val time conducting college level research but it also helps Val identify which tool to access for different information needs. In some cases, a search engine is the best option.


Library Databases

(ex. Academic Search Complete, General One File)

Search Engines

(ex. Google, Yahoo & Bing)

Information Sources

  • Scholarly or peer reviewed journal articles
  • Popular and general magazine articles
  • Newspaper articles
  • Reference book articles or chapters
  • Books
  • Streaming media
  • Minimal or no advertising
  • Limited number of scholarly articles, most cost money
  • Globally popular web sites (Wikipedia, Youtube, Facebook)
  • Consumer & Shopping web sites (Amazon, eBay)
  • Goverment sites, (.gov) educational sites (.edu), groups and organizations (.org) (ex. USDA, Valencia College, PETA)
  • Current news (Orlando Sentinel, USA Today)
  • Blogs
  • Advertisements

Organizational Structure

  • Highly methodical, each individual record is searchable
  • Resources are based on specific criteria and disciplines
  • Advanced search options, including subject headings, publisher, author,date etc.


  • Reliability & other criteria not evaluated when pages are indexed
  • Ranked results, keyword searches often default to the sites that have been visited the most often
  • Search engines cannot be searched by subject, as most web pages are not cataloged with subject headings



  • Journal articles have been evaluated by experts in the field
  • Most material in a database has been published and has gone through an evaluative and editorial process
  • Databases are updated frequently
  • Minimal to no quality control governs the Web
  • Author credentials are often not verifiable; anonymous content
  • Some web sites contain outdated information, no regular updates
  • All sources on the web need to be evaluated and verified by the user. Sites with rerferences listed make this easier


Cost& Access

  • Databases are funded through student tuition, college funding, and the Florida state funding
  • Databases are accessible 24/7 through a student's Atlas account
  • Overwhelming majority of information is free
  • Library databases and most journals are inaccessible on the web
  • Most evaluated & credible information requires membership to a group or organization, and usually requires fees


  • Highly organized; availability of advanced search options and increased relevancy of results
  • All retrieved articles in a full text database are accessible
  • Limited options for precise results. Requires more effort to narrow
  • Only the first 1000 results are actually accessible (Google)

When To Use

  • College level research
  • Quick access to verified, credible information
  • Current and updated information
  • Information with references to other sources
  • Personal information
  • Information on groups, companies, Government, and edcucational institutions
  • News, weather, travel, & shopping
  • Overviews, statistics, and brief articles


The bottom line: Databases and search engines both serve useful purposes when conducting research. Understanding the strengths and limitations of each can save Val time.


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