PAIS: The Database of Choice for Policy

| August 10, 2011

Where would you to go to search the literature in public and social policy and public affairs?  PAIS (the database produced by the Public Affairs Information Service) has been described as “a classic index with abstracts covering the full range of political, social, and public policy issues.”  Established in 1914, PAIS  has over time chronicled issues in the public debate through highly selective coverage of a wide variety of sources.  The database provides access to journal articles, books, government documents, statistical directories, “gray (or fugitive) literature,” research reports, conference reports, publications of international agencies, microfiche, Internet material, and more.

PAIS is divided into two slightly overlapping parts:  PAIS International,  which includes records from the print PAIS Bulletin 1977 and forward, and from the print PAIS Foreign Language Index published 1972-1990, at which time it merged with the PAIS Bulletin; and PAIS Archive, which comprises a retrospective conversion of the PAIS Annual Cumulated Bulletin, Volumes 1-62, published 1915-1976.

Both databases are available through Columbia University Libraries.  If you access the databases via the Databases tab on the Columbia University Libraries website, there is some confusion about the differentiation of the files (there are separate links for PAIS Archive and PAIS International); each link, however, provide access to the complete database, 1915 to present, in a single search.  The database labeled PAIS Archive (at is searchable via the ProQuest interface; the database labeled PAIS International (at is searchable via the CSA Illumina interface. *

As with most databases, it is possible to search by natural language, or free-text, terms, either individually or correlated through the use of Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT).  Thus one could search for the term “education policy” alone, or one could combine the terms “education policy” AND “social analysis” to find the intersection of the two concepts, i.e., find works that deal with both topics.

In addition, like most databases, PAIS uses a set of subject headings (controlled vocabulary terms) based on Library of Congress Subject Headings, and it may be useful to be familiar with these in order to search for single subjects or multiple (correlated) subjects.  Subject headings worth considering for a PAIS search include the following:

  • Education
  • Education — Social aspects
  • Education and state
  • Educational planning
  • Policy sciences
  • Public policy
  • Public policy — Research
  • Public welfare
  • Social legislation
  • Social policy
  • Social problems
  • Social research
  • United States — Educational policy
  • United States — Educational sector
  • United States — Social policy

PAIS via ProQuest in some cases includes PDFs for individual documents retrieved, but in most cases linkage to full text (when available) is enabled by e-Link, the feature provided by Columbia to link to an external site, which opens in a new window.  In cases where an e-version of a work is not available (as is true for most non-journal material), e-Link provides the means to search CLIO, Columbia’s online catalog, to find whether the work is available as a print resource.

Though in almost no case can a database be considered the absolute, definitive resource for any subject field, PAIS is clearly the first place to look for works on public policy, policy analysis, public affairs, and related topics, and one would not want to neglect searching it to find first-rate current and retrospective resources for these fields.

*To further complicate matters, databases currently available through CSA are in process of “migrating” to ProQuest, which has absorbed CSA (Cambridge Scientific Abstracts), so PAIS via CSA will likely disappear from the scene in the relatively near future.  Stay tuned!