Posted by: ayounglove | May 25, 2009

PsycInfo Question

Creative Commons

Creative Commons

Recently a friend contacted me with an interesting question. She gave me permission to share her question along with my answer here in my blog.

Hi April,

I’ve got a bee in my research bonnet that only a librarian can help me with. One time you were explaining to me that searching PsycINFO does not mean access to a uniform database, that what one has access to is limited by the subscription one’s institution has. Well, are you familiar with meta-analyses? This is research based on searching databases like PsycINFO and Medline. It just seems strange to me that there are all these researchers out there claiming to do a comprehensive comparison of all the research out there on a given topic by searching these databases. In the article it will list what databases they used and their search terms, but I keep thinking how that list of databases is somewhat meaningless without knowing whether they were paying for full access or only partial (or even knew to check). Anyhow, one of the research projects the professor I work for is about to embark on will be based on a PsycINFO search. So I’m trying to figure out whether and how to bring this issue up to him. Maybe I should just write an article myself on the issue and submit it to a psychology journal (haha). So how can I learn more about this? Also, how can I learn what portion of information my university has access to?


P.S. I should start paying you a retainer. Is there such thing as a personal librarian?

Dear Michelle,

Okay, so earlier I may not have been very clear. I’ll try to be more precise, but this is a convoluted topic.

There are vendors, and there are databases. Ebsco is a database vendor (also called a database aggregator). PsycINFO is a database.

What I was trying to explain when we spoke earlier are several separate phenomenons:

1) Many people can’t tell the difference between a database and a database aggregator — they say “I searched Ebsco,” even though every library that uses the Ebsco vendor/interface will have a different package of databases.

2) Your PsycINFO probably has a different portion of full-text articles than mine does. Many patrons believe that if it is not full text that the article does not exist. They don’t realize that they can use an abstract to request an article that is not available in full-text from Interlibrary Loan. Therefore, they are sometimes surprised to discover that a different library’s PsycINFO “has more articles in it.”

3) The search features and how PsycINFO looks to you will depend on your database vendor. So, if you use Elsevier your search interface with PsycINFO will look different than if you use Ebsco. This potentially means that a person searching with one interface could find slightly different results than a person searching with the other interface. It’s the same information, but it’s like using two different pairs of glasses to see it (if that makes sense).

Here is a list of possible vendors you may be using to get to PsycINFO:

The PsycINFO database produces a variety of Psyc products. Your library is paying for access to one or all of the following if you have access to PsycINFO:

Technically, you should be able to find this information (which Psyc products you get) somewhere on your library’s website, although I just looked at WWU’s site, and it blocks out non-patrons more than most, so I’m not sure where this info is hidden.

To get a better idea about what PsycINFO does and does not contain in general (before anyone uses any “glasses” to look through the data), this is the official coverage list:

Finally, PsycINFO and Medline are different because Medline is run by the National Library of Medicine and is a government/nonprofit database that is free, while PsycINFO is produced by the American Psychological Association and costs money to access. You can access the information in Medline online from PubMed, if you wanted to. Your library vendor (say, Ebsco) probably re-packages Medline as a regular database, even though it’s available online (most vendors do this to try and get more info to the students).

The difference between PubMed and Medline:

Pubmed access:

I hope that helps? Let me know if this all made sense.

P.S. This is an awesome question. Can I post our discussion on my blog when we are done?

April Younglove


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