Fast Computer Research Without the Internet

Find reliable business information—ad free—through your local public library.

by Brad and Debra Schepp
- May 26, 2009

Did you like using the library as a student? Well, while Brad practically lived in libraries, we've found that many people would just as soon weed-whack their gardens as do research. Not everyone finds it fun. Of course, as someone who operates their own business, it's something you have to do. So as part of our never-ending quest to make life easier and time more productive for eBay sellers, we'll explain what online databases are all about.

Deb's a librarian, and she can tell you that most people don't know the difference between a database and the Internet. We all use the Internet every day and, thanks to tools like Google, it seems we can summon any fact we need to our computer screens. Except that's not quite true—it just seems that way, and sifting through the overload of information that search engines deliver makes Internet searching time consuming. This is where online databases can help.

Databases are collections of articles, statistics, patents, company profiles—or whatever—in a computerized format. They have been around since the 1960s, way before the World Wide Web. There are thousands of them, such as ABI Inform, LexisNexis, Medline Plus and Regional Business News.

Once the province of librarians and other professional researchers, databases have become much easier to use and widely available through public and academic libraries. Many such libraries provide free access to these databases—which normally cost a fee—thanks to your tax dollars. All you need for permission to use them is a library card. And once you have that, you can access databases from the comfort and convenience of your home or office in most cases.

Databases provide information that's more reliable and perhaps not available through Google searches—and they deliver it in a way that's more convenient

OK, but why bother with databases when you can just hop on Google? Databases provide information that's more reliable and perhaps not available through Google searches—and they deliver it in a way that's more convenient. You can usually limit your search to a particular time, use keywords freely, limit results to full text or citations and so on. As a librarian with the Internet Public Library recently explained to us: "Google is free, but your library pays for these databases... you get what you pay for."

Other advantages

There is nothing irrelevant on the search results page to distract you, like ads. The procedure for saving or printing information is the same for each item within a database, even though you're retrieving items from potentially a lot of different publishers.

Materials are there most likely because a human, not a machine, said they should be. Every article within a business periodicals database, for example, is likely to command enough respect to make looking at it worthwhile.

You probably hop on Google all the time to ferret out facts, so we don't have to convince you that it's useful. It's the same for databases. There are as many reasons why you might want to use a database as there are databases. For example you might want to:

  • Get the lowdown on a competitor
  • Research product trends
  • Find out how solvent a company is that you're thinking of doing business with
  • Explore software, packing supplies, insurance, payment methods and much more
  • Look for articles about exporting your products

What's available through your library?

To get started, why not see what databases are available through your local library? LibWeb is an online directory of libraries that have Web sites. Click on it to find local libraries that may provide customers with access to databases. is another searchable directory of libraries. You can click on libraries by state and county to find different libraries near you.

Once you locate a library with database access, go there at an off-time (e.g., a weekday when the kids are in school) and ask the reference librarian for a tutorial in databases. Soon you'll find yourself using them all the time to supplement your Internet research.

With all due respect to Google and Yahoo, humans do a better job than computers in many ways

Good databases for eBay sellers

We asked librarians from Rutgers University and The New York Public Library for suggestions for databases that eBay sellers may want to use. We also added some.

Use the DialogSelect database to search for market research reports from sources around the world. While you'll need to pay a fee to access the entire report, lots of summaries are available at Market Research Findings. If you're curious or just rich, High-Cost Market Research Sources are listed in the Marketing Virtual Library.

The p4A Antiques Reference database has a lot of things that set it apart from other sources. For example, there's at least one picture for every article citation—which make it faster to tell if the article covers what you're researching. Humans decide what goes into the database, not computers—and with all due respect to Google and Yahoo, humans do a better job than computers in many ways.

Of the many mega databases, Reference USA may be the best. It's a database of 12 million U.S. businesses. You can use it for sales leads, finding new business opportunities and suppliers, and even tracking down addresses and phone numbers and conducting market research. You can sort companies by state, county, area and zip codes, industry, product code, revenues and more.

Sometimes you just want to pull information from recognizable sources. For example, the Business Source Elite database includes articles from familiar sources such as Business Week, Forbes, Fortune and hundreds of additional respectable sources such as Women's Wear Daily. Subject areas include business, management, economics, finance, banking and accounting, and the database is updated daily.

Whether you love researching or not, no one can argue that it's important to do it as quickly and productively as possible. So try exploring online databases soon.

About the Author

Brad and Debra Schepp are the authors of 20 books, including eBay PowerSeller Secrets and The Official Success Guide: Insider Tips and Strategies for Sourcing Products from the World's Largest B2B Marketplace. Their most recent book, which Deb co-authored with John Lawson, Kick Ass Social Commerce for E-preneurs: It's Not About Likes—It's About Sales, was recently named the 2015 Small Business Book of the Year in the social media category.

For further information, visit Brad and Deb's website,

Opinions expressed here may not be shared by Auctiva Corp. and/or its principals.

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