Library Notes for Political Science

Teaching resources, news, and links to keep McGill’s Political Scientists informed

Better know a database #1

Posted by Megan on October 7, 2009

With apologies, to Stephen Colbert (and any other librarians who might have already had this idea), here is my first Better Know a Database entry.


JSTOR is without question the most recognized database among students and researchers in academic institutions. They always seem to know the name. Which puzzles me, honestly.

It’s an excellent resource, but it’s not the largest or most comprehensive database to which McGill subscribes. I hypothesize that since it was one of the first sources of full text articles online (beginning in 1995), the name became well-known among university faculty, who still persist in mentioning it to students.

Speaking of the name, JSTOR is short for “journal storage,” and herein lies the problem with students making it their go-to database. JSTOR was initially conceived as an archive for journals. Publishers agree to provide the text of their journals, but they also negotiate a moving embargo on current issues, usually a period of 3-5 years. In other words, if you search right now, you’ll be missing articles published after 2004 in many journals.

JSTOR has greatly improved its search features over the past few years. Advanced searches are possible in author, title, and abstract fields. However, only 10% of the articles have abstracts, which limits the utility of that particular type of search. Unlike other databases and citation indexes (e.g., PAIS International), JSTOR does not have a controlled subject vocabulary that would allow for more precise keyword searches.

The entire database can be queried at once, or more specific subject collections (e.g., Political Science) can be searched or browsed.

Other features:

  • Most articles include links that launch searches for the author(s), papers that subsequently cited the article, and other related citations in JSTOR and in Google Scholar.
  • Full PDFs can be downloaded and printed. In the past, printing of the page images was much more difficult.
  • Individual citations can be directly exported to EndNote. To export more than one citation at a time, it is necessary to register for a free JSTOR account. The account can also be used to save references across sessions and to e-mail groups of citations.

Searches in other databases and indexes frequently link into full text articles stored in JSTOR, but I don’t usually recommend it as a starting point due to the absence of recent literature.


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