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Penn State University Libraries

Picking the Right Database

The University Libraries has over 500 databases in just about every subject. This is in addition to the CAT, the database of books, journals, maps, DVDs, recordings, etc. that the Libraries owns or has access to. Basically, the CAT indexes "whole" items, not parts of these items. (for exceptions, see below) To figure out what database to use can be difficult. Not only do they vary in subject but also in what type of thing is indexed, ranging from article to conference paper to report and lots of other options. In addition, some are full text and some just list a record and then you need to search someplace else for the actual item.

First step -determine specifically what you need. Some possibilities include:

  • Book on a subject
  • Article on a subject
  • Technical report

Second step -determine how much and what level of information you need

  • General information
  • Few items for a paper/speech
  • Detailed information
  • Extensive literature review

For books, search the CAT. You can find both basic books as well as very scholarly.


This is an introductory book. Notice the search terms used. (for help with searching the CAT, check out The CAT help)

You can do a title and subject search for sustainable engineering.
The libraries owns the book Green Energy located in the Engineering library.

Example of a more scholarly book on the subject.


Other databases of more general use can be found at Try These First

Try these resources first.

You might need more information than you can find in these resources. Check out the research guide in the area of interest.

There is an alphabetical list of research guides. This one starts with the "e" section.

A section of the alphabetical listing for research guides. For our topic, energy resource and engineering and environmental sciences might be useful.

The Penn State libraries has a research guide for energy engineering.

The database listing for the Energy Engineering Research Guide

Points to Remember

  • There are over 500 databases
  • The best way to locate the right database is to use the research guides
  • Each database has an icon that provides information on the database that looks like:More information - opens a new window

For additional information contact the Engineering Library