How Four Databases Index Articles (Part 2)

This is the second part of an article about database indexing practices. View part one

Finally, the ERIC database serves a very different user group, so it features a fundamentally different indexing scheme. ERIC is the largest database of educational literature, so it focuses on issues in education research and policy instead of library and information science. It indexes many of the same journals as LISA, LISTA and Library Lit, but it often does so selectively, so as only to include articles that are specifically relevant to education. As such, the descriptors used are much different than both the library science databases and my own keyword terms. In addition to subject differences, the ERIC indexing staff has provided a much more thorough and detailed system of subject headings. Compared to LISA (3), LISTA (4) and Library Lit (2), ERIC features 18 descriptors. Interestingly, some of these keyword phrases are specific to education (class activities, teacher attitudes), but others are the same as the descriptors in the library science databases (information seeking, library instruction). This is most likely due to the overlap in education and library services and the importance that each plays in the other’s field of study.

As well as having more descriptors which lead to more subject entry points into the article, the language used in ERIC appears to correspond very well to likely user queries and some test searches helped confirmed that the system was effective for leading user s to relevant material through subject headings. A subject search for “information seeking” returned 2780 results, which is appropriate due to the broad nature of the phrase. Combining it with the subject phrase “undergraduate students” narrows the results to a very manageable 74.

All of this said, the effectiveness of any of these retrieval systems assumes a certain level of competence by the user. He or she must know the basics of how indexing works, how to search by subject headings, and what, if any, faceted search mechanisms are offered by the particular retrieval system. Any search system which features human chosen subject keywords is going to be different from all others; this is a result of both subtleties inherent in language as well as the various ways of interpreting an author’s intentions. The important part is that the retrieval systems strive to offer additional mechanisms to guide their users to the material that is most useful to them.

Works Cited

Leckie, G. J. “Desperately Seeking Citations: Uncovering Faculty Assumptions about the Undergraduate Research Process.” Journal of Academic Librarianship 22.3 (1996): 201-8. 16 Nov. 2010


  1. […] On the other hand, Library Lit’s descriptors, which initially appeared to correspond poorly with actual user queries, actually function quite effectively in the context of the content discovery keys they provide. For example, a search for “undergraduate students” a likely user query which does not appear as a descriptor in the Leckie article citation, brings up several relevant subject phrases in the left sidebar of the page. One of these is “Bibliographic instruction/College and university students” from earlier, which takes the user to a less intimidating 1301 peer-reviewed articles including the Leckie piece. Their system also allows for easy further narrowing. Continue Reading this Paper […]

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