Environmental and Alternative Energy Information Sources: Part 1: Database Roundup and Rankings

Article excerpt


Environmental and alternative energy issues are popular topics for college student research papers and presentations. These often interdisciplinary topics can be approached from the literature of the sciences, social sciences, or even humanities. Useful information, depending on the specific topic or assignment, may appear in popular, scholarly, and even advocacy sources spanning a wide range of information types, including journal, magazine, and newspaper articles; books; government documents ranging from state to federal to international agencies; theses and dissertations; organizational reports; and websites. Environmental literature is a huge category of knowledge with numerous general and specialized databases. Knowing which database is best for your needs can be bewildering.


This article identifies and ranks the best databases for searching and finding environmental research and literature.

All were selected for their potential use by, and greatest usefulness for, college and university students. Some are large, multidisciplinary databases (e.g., CAB Abstracts, Google Scholar, Scopus, Web of Science); some have a clear environmental information emphasis (e.g., Environment Complete, Environmental Sciences and Pollution Management, Environmental Studies and Policy Collection, GreenFile, GREENR, LexisNexis Environmental); and some are general, multidisciplinary, full-text, undergraduate-oriented databases (e.g., Academic Search Premier, Expanded Academic ASAP, Omnifile Full Text Mega). Of course, these are not the only useful databases. Other databases with environmental content excluded from the comparison because of more specialized or narrow subject coverage include Agricola, BIOSIS Previews, Compendex, CQ Researcher, Energy Citations Database, Environment and Energy Daily, Environmental Engineering Abstracts, Environmental Impact Statements: Full-Text and Digests, ENVIROnetBASE, GeoRef, Inspec, and NTIS (National Technical Information Service).

Criteria used to compare databases for this analysis were coverage of the most important environmental journals; freshness and completeness of indexing for those journals; amount of environmental content as measured by number of results for selected title keyword searching; and comprehensiveness of environmental content as measured by inclusion of selected citations. I used the bibliographies and search topics of university students in an environmental studies program as benchmarks.

The University of Montana's environmental studies department, part of the College of Arts and Sciences, has an undergraduate minor and major and a graduate master's program. The use of the term "studies" underscores the truly interdisciplinary approach of the program. Student and faculty research and teaching encompasses the study and management of the environment; water resources; sustainability; alternative energy; organic farming and local agriculture systems, pollution and toxicology; and environmental activism, advocacy, justice, law, and writing.

Theses and professional papers produced from 2005 to 2007 by graduate students in University of Montana's environmental studies department were identified, and 10 papers were randomly selected to be sampled. Paper topics included contaminants in traditional foods, forest restoration, place attachment, local food systems, and dental mercury discharge. The bibliographies of those 10 papers were completely analyzed and, from the 183 journal article citations (out of 504 total citations) contained in them, the top environmental journals were identified. The types of information sources most frequently listed in the graduate student bibliographies were as follows: journal articles (36%), books and book chapters (22%), U.S. government documents (20%), and miscellaneous other types (22%). The majority of the citations listed in the bibliographies were recent publications (58% from 2000 to 2007; 29% from 1990 to 1999; 13% from pre-1990). …