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As a general term a database is any computerized collection of data. Per library naming conventions, a database is usually a computerized (often Web-based) bibliographic index, or, a search engine for finding library materials.

A database is a continuously updated file of related information, abstracts, or references on a particular subject, arranged for ease and speed of search and retrieval using a computer. Most library databases are periodical indexes and abstracting services which are leased annually from a database provider. Access may be limited under the terms of a licensing agreement to registered borrowers.

Databases do not always contain the full-text of items they index, however; some databases only include article citation information, subjects, and abstracts. In such situations searchers wishing to retrieve the full text must search for a copy in another database, find the call number for a print copy in the stacks, or obtain the item via interlibrary loan. An OpenURL system can greatly assist with these steps.

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