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Introduction to Power Searching Workshop: 6. Library Discovery Tool: Bibliographic Indexes

Types of Bibliographic Indexes

Connect to all Bibliographic Indexes* Page [Note: Page also links to full text archival collections]

*Bibliographic Indexes sometimes called "Research Databases"

Subject Indexes 

Citation Indexes

Constructed to search forward and backward by citation, answering the question "Who cited my favorite article?" , the "Who cited the study citing my favorite article?"  ETC.

Example:  Web of Science

*Note: many subject indexes have limited forward citation searching, as does Google Scholar

Specialty Indexes by Document Type*

*many Bibliographic Indexes now use open URL to pull records from other archives into the Index [ or link out to the record] , so it may be transparent to the scholar whether the full text is part of the Bibliographic Index proper, or pulled into the search results.   [It doesn't matter as long as you have the PDF.]

Hybrid Index / Archive 

  • Interdisciplinary:  e.g. Academic Search Complete
  • **NOTE :  With Open URL connection, now a PDF of an article, e.g. may be pulled into the search result screen from another source.   It is transparent as to whether the article is "part of the Index" or comes from another source.   Luckily, it does not matter.



What are Bibliographic Indexes?

DATABASE at Postmasters, March 2009 by Michael Mandiberg / CC Attribution Share Alike 2.0 Generic 

Bibliographic Indexes are formal library discovery tools used to locate traditional library [e.g. books, journal articles, documents] and sometimes, nontraditional resources [e.g.web sites].   They are the academic gateway to scholarly communication in any field and around any academic topic.

Bibliographic Indexes often..

  • Had a first life as print indexes, pre-Internet.
  • Are professionally indexed to allow for mulitple kinds of queries.
  • [Usually] Use controlled vocabulary for subject headings.
  • Have multiple levels of search and limitation options
  • Are designed to index an academic field or topic, though some are interdisciplinary
  • Acquired by libraries through annual subscriptions


  • Bibliographic Indexes offer the best options for precision academic searching, when engaging the larger academic conversation on at topic is important.
  • Many include links to full text, or full text within the database.  
  • Almost always an export to Refworks or other bibliographic managers.
  • Citations can be identified and moved in groups, rather than one by one
  • Searches can be saved and alerts placed, usually.


  • Costs:  Bibliographic Indexes are very expensive.  Subscribers are generally large corporations or libraries. Individuals without library memberships typically have no access to these tools.
  • Access:  Access is generally restricted by password or IP range to true library patrons.
  • Searching skills :  Basic knowledge of database characteristics and search platform search syntax and needed to use the index effectively and efficiently.

Characteristics of Bibliographic Indexes

Know what is under your cursor!

Things to know about a Bibliographic Index

Who publishes it ? : 

  • Professional Association? U.S. Gov.? For Profit? Not for Profit

What is the editorial focus? bias?
What is indexed ?  Criteria for inclusion/exclusion

  • Document type,e.g.  peer reviewed journals?
  • Core journal list ?
  • How many years back does index go?
  • How current is the index?
  • How large is the database?

How is the database indexed?

  • Professionally catalogued?
  • Controlled Vocabulary Subject Headings?
  • Thesaurus or list of subject headings
  • Indexed [searchable] fields? e.g. methodology, tests and measurements

Does it include or link to any full text ?