Reference Open House

Research-ready, librarian-tested: 19 databases that make a daily difference in the search experience of students, scholars, and general users.

Research-ready, librarian-tested: 19 databases that make a daily difference in the search experience of students, scholars, and general users.

Welcome to the library, to three libraries that span the country and serve a range of different patrons. The senior manager of reference and research at Auburn Avenue Research Library, the library director of the Simmons University Library, and a librarian at Sno-Isle Libraries share go-to resources that the librarians in their institutions rely upon to help patrons with a range of reference needs, addressing a variety of research paths.

The Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History

Anchoring the West End of the Sweet Auburn historic district, the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History (AARL) in Atlanta, GA, opened its doors in May 1994. It is the first public library in the Southeast to offer specialized reference and archival collections solely dedicated to the study and research of African American culture and history, as well as that of other people of African descent. This library is part of the Fulton County Library System (FCLS), formerly known as the Atlanta Fulton Public Library System (AFPLS).


The library’s deep, rich roots can be traced to the 1921 opening of Atlanta’s first public library for its Black citizens. The Negro History Collection of noncirculating volumes was formed in 1934, thanks to the stewardship and labor of several African American librarians and support staff. This collection, which experienced relocations and mergers with other local African American collections, developed into what it is today. From 2014 to 2016, AARL underwent renovations, increasing from 46,573 square feet to four floors and nearly 60,000 square feet that includes three galleries, the Authors’ & Writers’ Lounge, an education center, and a 250-seat auditorium. Its Archives, Program, and Reference & Research Divisions feature state-of-the-art technology and a material collection of roughly 83,000 items in print and nonprint formats, excluding e-resources.


This librarian team oversees the reference collection, housed on the second floor along with an exhibition gallery. The foundation of this unit is the former Negro History Collection, renamed the Williams Collection on Black America in 1971. Although these books are identified with bookplates and a special call number, they are integrated into the reference collection. All AARL books are considered reference materials and are noncirculating, for in-house use only.

The Online Public Access Catalog is used to explore this noncirculating collection. To find the library’s holdings, users are encouraged to limit their query to the library’s name. Search results offer materials in different formats, such as books, documentaries, and audiovisuals. Professional library staff members who have extensive knowledge of its materials are available to assist researchers and scholars.

For resources that preserve expansive, textual, microform records, patrons can access Ancestry Library Edition and African American History Online through or via GALILEO, a password-protected network of Georgia educational databases. Oxford African American Studies Center is also available for patrons to utilize to study African American culture and history and the African Diaspora across all disciplines. All these databases give the public a variety of perspectives on wide-ranging subjects, from people who are Afro-Latinx, Black immigrants, or from the Caribbean to the Black experience in Europe, U.S. food deserts and insecurity in Black communities, environmental justice, Black nationalism, civil rights movements, and more.

One can also peruse the AARL Archival Finding Aids or access the ProQuest Historical Black Newspapers and the African American Newspapers—Accessible Archives databases by clicking on the library’s e-resources link. These options contain entries about historical legacies and descriptions of African American life in the 19th and early 20th centuries in periodicals, such as the Atlanta Daily World, Chicago Defender, Philadelphia Tribune, Frederick Douglass Papers, and Freedom’s Journal.


The Archives division houses and maintains the histories and cultures of individuals with African heritage and Atlanta history connections. Among the many collections that can be viewed and accessed in-house are items related to Hosea Williams, the late prominent civil rights activist, and Andrew Young, civil rights activist and former mayor of Atlanta. In-house patrons can also review the African American Calendar Collection, National Black Arts Festival Records, and the African American Lesbian and Gay Print Culture Collection.

The Archives Division regularly collaborates with other regional research institutions to help the public gain access to even more collections. These partnerships have resulted in several new initiatives, including the digital African American Funeral Programs Collection, which has nearly 3,400 individual programs from Atlanta and the Southeast with dates that range from 1886 to 2019.

The School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) at Simmons University

The School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) at Simmons University was one of its first schools, opening in 1902 and offering a bachelor of science degree in library science. Today, its nationally ranked master’s in library and information science (MSLIS) degree program prepares future librarians and archivists to pursue meaningful work in a variety of library, archives, and information center settings. Students also have the opportunity to complete dual master’s degrees in history and children’s literature complementing their MSLIS. During their course of studies, all students are introduced to a broad range of resources and tools that are essential for their development as professionals and ultimately support them in meeting the needs of their future patrons. The following resources are significant for their unique content, suitability for scholars and researchers, and providing a basis for honing the skills of a practitioner. Their value to students continues well after their graduation and as they progress into their professional careers.

ArchiveGrid is the creation of OCLC Research, a division of OCLC devoted to researching and advancing technology-driven applications for librarians and libraries. This resource works as a discovery system directed at enhancing the findability of archival collections. It indexes finding aids contributed by archivists as well as WorldCat records describing archival materials. Over 1,400 institutions are represented in the database, from archives to museums and historical societies. This freely available resource makes over seven million records accessible to researchers via the ArchiveGrid interface or as results from a search engine query. It offers indexed searching and returns results in a list view or helpful summary view, grouping the results by categories such as “People,” “Places,” or “Archives Location.” This resource is recommended for archivists and researchers focused on locating historical and/or primary source material.

Library and Information Science Source is a subscription database hosted by EBSCO that focuses on the current research and best practices in the field of library and information science. The database indexes and offers full text for over 160 of the leading journals in the discipline, in addition to more than 100 open-access titles. Its contents support the research agenda of scholars as well as practical applications of practitioners. The search and advanced search features are enhanced by indexed searching and faceted options for limiting results. The accompanying thesaurus provides searchers with access to the full range of subject terms in the database. The database may have limited appeal as a general resource for patrons but it provides library science students and information professionals with an essential tool for their work.

Something About the Author from Gale Literature is an online database that continues the print resource of the same name. It provides biographical information about writers and illustrators of books for children and young adults. It includes recognized and award-winning authors and illustrators in addition to up-and-coming ones. The content is arranged directory style and offers detailed biographies on authors and illustrators. Users will also find autobiographical essays and cover art included with entries. Each of the entries includes a bibliography for further biographical information and critical appraisal. This resource is an authoritative source and is particularly useful for scholars of children’s literature and librarians with a focus on children’s and young adult reader services.

Sno-Isle Libraries

Sno-Isle Libraries is located north of Seattle in western Washington State, serving more than 800,000 residents throughout Snohomish and Island counties. Its 23 libraries are located in suburban and rural communities that vary in size but share the values of community, equity, inclusion, welcoming, learning, and respect.

My work is driven by the unique needs of public library users, who turn to the library for school support, research, pleasure reading, and lifelong learning. As a public librarian in the internet age, I cannot say enough about the value of library databases. Building awareness around the variety of resources available through the library is essential to improve the customers’ experience and support their learning.

One resource regularly used to support learning is Gale eBooks. Thousands of full-text, digital reference books are available in this collection, and they become a personal library for anyone with internet access and a library card. The titles include standard reference books—single and multivolume sets—that support students and researchers of all ages. The ability to keyword search throughout every volume in the collection offers a power unimaginable in a print collection. Those who are familiar with internet searching will recognize this benefit and appreciate it. There is an additional advantage to using this database. Each entry provides a full source citation, in multiple formats. I often talk to users about the responsibility we all have to identify sources properly, and this is a critical detail for students as they learn to find, use, and cite verifiable information sources.

For those looking for fiction, the readers’ advisory database NoveList Plus from EBSCO helps to match readers with books. Searching by author, title, age, genre, or even atmosphere/tone will create customized options specific to individual readers. The database offers title and author read-alikes, reviews from major book publishing magazines, and the ability to create printable lists of book series in chronological order. NoveList allows readers to use their own criteria to identify new authors and titles, helps parents wanting to expand the interests of younger readers, and assists book clubs looking for information to supplement their discussions. A customer who once told me that their child “will only read Dog Man!” was pleased to learn how NoveList could empower them to make new reading discoveries.

Others looking to discover more about their family history will appreciate Ancestry Library Edition. Interest in genealogy has increased greatly over the years, and this database provided to libraries by ProQuest is not an exact duplicate of a personal paid subscription, but it is close. It is free for library customers and includes an ever-growing collection of digitized official documents. Used to instruct and assist customers with family history and local history research, the vital records, historical city directories, and other specialized record sets build a picture of a family’s experience over generations and connect people with their past. A customer’s response to discovering their ancestors through this database is one of the most gratifying parts of my job.

Priscilla Dickerson is the librarian senior manager of the reference and research division at the Auburn Avenue Research Library. Vivienne B. Piroli, MSLIS, ALM, H Dip Ed, is the Library Director of Simmons University Library and is on the adjunct faculty for the School of Library and Information Science, Simmons University. This article is dedicated to the memory of Linda H. Watkins, the “librarian’s librarian,” in recognition of her service to the students and faculty of the Simmons University School of Library and Information Science. Jennifer Forman is a librarian for Sno-Isle Libraries at the Snohomish Community Library.

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