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Volunteer Guide: State Agency Databases Project

Brief handbook for project volunteers

Introduction

Before we get started on suggesting ways to find databases that meet the scope of the State Agency Databases Project, first go read What is a Database? If you're still unsure about what a database is for project purposes, please contact Project Coordinator Daniel Cornwall. Use the "Email Me" button if you don't already have his contact information.

This page offers some tips on locating new databases for your guides. If you have tips that work for you, please send them to the project coordinator so they can be added to this page.

 

Examine your page for subject holes

If you're searching for new databases to add for the very first time, you might want to review your state guide for subjects for which you have no databases. Not every state is going to have a publicly searchable database on every subject, but if you have a subject box(es) without databases it may be a sign of undiscovered databases. This is especially true if most other states seem to have searchable databases in a given area. Check out our broad subject guides to see what other states have done in an area that seems missing in your state.

Start with State home pages

It's usually best to do your searching for databases on a state or agency specific website rather than general Google.

If you don't already know the top level URL of your state, visit https://www.usa.gov/states-and-territories, choose your state from the dropdown menu and click go. You'll be presented with a page formatted like this:

Screenshot of Arizona information page from usa.gov

Click on the "Official Name" listed to go to the state home page. Clicking on "state agencies" takes you to usa.gov's highlighted agency list. For a full listing, visit the state website. It will usually have a section called "government or agencies" you can use to navigate to individual databases.

Once you're at a state home page, it is often worthwhile to look at their "services" or "online services" tab/link if they have one. These lists usually include applications, but often include databases. Iowa has a services tab at https://directory.iowa.gov/service/Index some of the resources here that fit our project guidelines include:

If the services tab isn't helpful, then go to the state's search box (often on all state pages in the upper right hand corner) and do a search for [searchable database]. If you're looking for databases on a specific subject, visit agency home pages that might match your subject and search from there. Some state agencies, like the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, maintain department specific database lists which will usually be more current than a state level list. However, most agencies in most states do not maintain such lists. 

 

Start with State university home pages

If a college or university receives state funding and/or the state appoints the school's regents, that college or university counts as a state agency for the purposes of our project. 

Like the states themselves, it is often more helpful to go to a university's home page and search from there. If you're not sure what colleges/universities in your state qualify as public (and thus state agenices), try visiting wikipedia's listing at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_state_universities_in_the_United_States. A university name will lead to its Wikipedia page, from there jump to "External Links" to get to the university home page(s). A casual search of Arizona State University pages brought out these in scope resources:

Try data.gov - but be careful

Data.gov started out as a repository of federal data sources, but now has some coverage of datasets produced by the state governments at https://catalog.data.gov/dataset?organization_type=State+Government#sec-res_format.

I recommend this resource with a bit of caution. The State Agency Databases Project is looking for publicly searchable databases and not data just lying about. If you decide that a dataset that has to be downloaded and manipulated by a user is important, you may create an "Other Resources" tab on your state guide and list the set there. But do not put any unsearchable datasets on the "home page" of your State guide.

Once you're at the state data government data.gov page, you can use limiters on the left hand side of the page to limit to your particular state and type of resource. I find that using a type of "HTML" often leads to searchable databases. Though it also sometimes lead to static pages of data that should not be included on the home page of your state guide.

In addition to data.gov, some states have their own data registries. These are often located at data.[Your State Domain} or at [Your State Domain]/data. Like data.utah.gov or utah.gov/data. The same cautions apply to state data catalogs as does data.gov

Set up a Google alert

Once you know the domain (last part of URL before the .gov, .com, .us, etc) of your state/agency/university, consider setting up a Google alert. First test out your search - perhaps [searchable database site:alaska.gov] to see if you come up with results. If so, visit https://www.google.com/alerts and set up a search. Have it send you results as often as you're comfortable with. Sometimes you'll get results for databases you already have, but sometimes surprises emerge.

ASK people

Sometimes the best way to find databases is to ask people likely to know about them. These people include:

  • State agency webmasters - you can usually find a contact link at the bottom of agency pages.
  • Subject specialists in your library
  • Faculty at your college / power users of your library
  • Members of your state library association mailing list
  • Members of subject specific mailing lists

Project Coordinator