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Manuscript Division


Understanding Manuscripts: A Basic Introduction
arrow graphicManuscript Catalog Records
Finding Aids
Women's History Guides and Access Tools





Manuscript Catalog Records


Every collection held in the Manuscript Division is represented by a record in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Each catalog record includes information on the following:

  • Title or creator of the collection
  • Size, dates, and type of material
  • Data about the person or organization featured in the collection
  • Brief summary of the collection's scope and content
  • Controlled listing of the principal subjects and people represented

The catalog is updated daily and may be accessed from terminals throughout the Library and from remote locations through the Internet. As with any catalog, the amount of information given for each collection is limited and touches only on the major topics and correspondents. Primarily a browsing device, the catalog is useful for locating the most likely sources on a topic and for providing an overview of the division's holdings.

Search Strategies

When searching for manuscript material in the Library's online catalog, keep in mind the following options and strategies:

  • Limit your search to manuscript records only, or search for manuscript material in conjunction with a broader search of the Library's books and other formats.

  • Become familiar with the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). The search strategies and subject terms used in locating manuscript records are the same as those for books and other general collections.

  • Search not only by name, title, and subject, but also keyword. Various types of keyword searches are useful for locating words and phrases in the summary scope and content notes of manuscript records, including the “natural language” version of words for which the arcane subject headings may not be readily apparent.

  • Keyword searching is also a good way of finding collections that contain certain types of manuscript material that are sometimes themselves the focus of a research project, such as diaries, ships' logs, speeches, account books, and so on.

  • Cast a wide net. For example, when researching an individual, search not only for that person's name but also for the names of family members, friends, colleagues, organizations, and anyone else with whom he or she may have corresponded.

  • Searches by occupation and subject are also helpful in identifying collections related to the individual you are researching.

  • Locating individuals by their religious or ethnic identities is often difficult, unless those aspects of people's lives so permeated their papers as to be obvious subject headings to the processing archivist or cataloger. When searching for collections by race or ethnicity of the creator, you may find it helpful to supplement your catalog search with a search of available printed guides.6 (See also the tips in the Area Studies section.)

Overcoming the Catalog's Limitations

Keep in mind that when doing manuscript research, you will likely need to consult collections not because of any interest per se in the creator of those materials but because the creator may have had an association with events and activities that are the real focus of your research. The catalog record, however, cannot describe the entire scope and diversity of the creator's experiences, nor can it identify all of the people, events, or subjects represented in a given collection. It distills in a few paragraphs the information contained in a multipage finding aid, which in turn is only a summary description of the documents that make up the collection. Even when a search of the catalog is unpromising, a follow-up search of collection finding aids may yield results.

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