Bringing databases closer to the surface

I love research!  I love to share my passion with my teaching colleagues too!  In the past, I’ve created and shared how-to videos on research tips and tricks and referencing, provided teacher ‘cheat sheets’ of great background reading and resources for research assignments, co-taught classes which focused on research skills or processes and collaborated with my school’s Director of Professional Learning and lead teacher librarian in the creation of our school-wide Inquiry Learning Research Process. As a teacher, I try to instil a love of research in my students too.  This is not always an easy sell to teenagers though.

A recent school library survey I conducted revealed a clear desire from teachers to know more about teaching research skills, including advanced search options, referencing and online databases.  Databases!  Databases!  Databases!  It was mentioned time and time again.

Databases are comprehensive, searchable, quality controlled, peer reviewed, valuable research support tools which are often not findable via a Google search.  Databases are contained in the part of the web known as the invisible, hidden or deep web.  Despite my love of research, it came as a surprise to me to learn just recently that only 4% of web pages are indexed (that is, findable via a search engine).  The remaining 96% of information is ‘below the surface’.

The benefit of delving into databases is that the information is from published works, often by professionals or experts in their field.  Unlike many of the sites that students find and reference from their Google searches, the information required for referencing is readily available in databases (author, date, publisher) and citations can often be created at the click of a button.

The issue with being ‘below the surface’ though is that (at least initially) more effort may be required to gain access and sometimes students (and teachers!) just don’t know where to start or where to look to get started.  Information and digital literacy skills are essential.

How can we encourage students to go beyond the convenience of Google or Wikipedia?

The expertise of the teacher librarian can play an important role.

De Groote and Dorsch (2003) argue that promotion, education and organisation are key.  Let me explain:


Students and teachers must have an awareness of the availability of alternatives to Google.

  1. Promote databases to teachers and students. Without teacher buy-in, student buy-in will not occur.
  2. Promote knowledge and understanding of databases. What are databases?  What is the purpose of databases?  Which database do I use?  Why is accessing databases worth the effort?
  3. Consider how to make promotion of databases more engaging for students.


  1. Discuss with teachers and students why searching beyond Google may be useful.
  2. Tutorials and workshops – for both teachers and students. Demonstrate the potential of alternative search options.  Ideally, provide just-in-time rather than just-in-case tutorials.  That is, offer students and teachers the opportunity to learn more about databases at a time when they are likely to soon need to use them – just before assessment is given out or during the early research phase.  This means that experimentation and use of databases is more likely to occur.
  3. Collaborate with the school teacher librarian – plan a lesson to discuss research strategies and techniques with students and specifically mention/demonstrate databases
  4. Teachers should model effective research behaviours. For example, when research is required, regularly discuss appropriate key words/search terms with students.


  1. Databases must be easily findable for students. Include a link to the sign-in page in a visibly appropriate location – e.g. on assignment task sheets (if electronic access to the task sheet is available) or on the library landing page.
  2. Online tutorial videos must, similarly, be easily findable and their use encouraged by teachers.
  3. Make accessing and using non-Google search options (or even use of a specific database) part of the requirements of assessment items.
  4. Pathfinders – create pathfinders for students which demonstrate the potential of databases and the kinds of resources they will find.

Awareness and convenience play a major role in both teacher and student use of databases.  Teacher confidence in using and accessing research databases is critical for encouraging greater student use of databases and other invisible web sources.  If we are going to bring databases ‘closer to the surface’, we must seek to learn more about them, how to access them and then be willing to dive in.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.  Please leave your feedback below.

I’ve also created the infographic below which may be a great starting point for discussions with teachers and students.  You’re also welcome to print the infographic for use in your school or library.  I’d love to hear how students and teachers respond if you do.

The following video also provides seven simple tips which will be helpful to students and teachers: Quick Tips & Shortcuts for Database Searching.


References and more information:

De Groote, S. & Dorsch, J. (2003). Measuring use patterns of online journals and databases. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 91(2), 231-241. Retrieved from

Hutchinson, E. (2017). Navigating the information landscape through collaboration. Retrieved from

Miller, A. (2018). There’s so much on the web!  Helping students become internet-research savvy.  Retrieved from

Tenopir, C. (1999). Factors that influence online database use.  Retrieved from