When searching for manuscript material in the Library of Congress Online Catalog, keep in mind the following options and strategies:
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.
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:
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.
When searching in the Library of Congress Online Catalog, you can limit your search results to materials held by the Manuscript Division by selecting "Advanced Search", and then "Add Limits", and finally "Manuscript" under "Location in the Library".(see screenshot below).
Authorized subject headings can be useful when searching in online catalogs. Subject headings include standardized topics, names, places, titles, and forms/genres of material. Subject headings like those listed below can help researchers get started and to perform searches in the Library of Congress Online Catalog.
A finding aid provides a detailed description of a collection by summarizing the overall scope of the content, conveying details about the individuals and organizations involved, and listing box and folder headings. Sometimes called inventories or registers, finding aids are created by division archivists in the course of processing a collection. They rarely describe every item individually but rather embody the archival view of a manuscript collection as groups of related documents that are arranged and analyzed collectively in an effort to preserve their context and reflect their provenance and the relationship between items (see the Understanding Manuscripts section of this guide). Some finding aids may include partial or complete name indexes to the correspondence contained in the collection. Special service conditions are noted, including terms under which the collection may be accessed or copied. Links are provided to digitized content, when available. When available, a link to the finding aid is available in the catalog record for a collection. An alphabetical list of the Manuscript Division's finding aids may be found on the Manuscript Reading Room's webpage.
Detailed finding guides exist for virtually all of the division's larger collections. The vast majority of these are available online and links to the finding aid may be found in the catalog record for the collection. A list of links to Finding Aids available online may also be found on the Manuscript Reading Room's website, and printed copies of all finding aids are available in the Manuscript Reading Room.
Searching the digital versions using the online finding aids search tool also allows researchers to uncover more quickly than before the names of people, places, groups, and subjects that do not appear in the abbreviated catalog records. Yet even with such enhancements, finding guides are still only aids to research. They cannot substitute for a scholar's detailed examination of the actual papers.
See the table below for a description of each section found in a finding aid.
|Section in Finding Aid||Definition|
|Collection Summary||An overview of the collection, giving research information such as the full title, the dates the collection content covers, the language(s) the collection is in, the location it's stored, and a summary of collection contents.|
|Selected Search Terms||The terms listed under this heading have been used to index the description of a collection in the Library's online catalog. They are grouped by name of person or organization, by subject or location, and by occupation. They are listed alphabetically within each section.|
|Administrative Information||Administrative information about the source or creator of the collection, the custodial history of the documents, and the conditions under which they may be consulted, reproduced, or quoted.|
|Biographical Note||Offers broader historical context of the collection and often provides a timeline of important events that relate to the collection's content.|
|Scope and Content Note||Provides a history of the relevant events relating to the collection, describes the arrangement of the collection, the major topics covered, and any notable gaps or weaknesses in the collection, and highlights notable items or correspondents in the collection.|
|Arrangement/Organization of the Papers||Describes the arrangement of the collection as processed by archivists.|
|Description of Series||
Outlines the major groups or series of papers.
Usually in hierarchical outline form, identifies in progressive detail the contents of the papers together with the corresponding microfilm film reel number or container number of each file. Links to digital content are provided when available.
Keyword search Library of Congress finding aids at findingaids.loc.gov.
When you open findingaids.loc.gov, all Library of Congress finding aids are searched by default. Researchers can narrow their search to finding aids for manuscript collections only. Find the drop-down menu, "Within Library of Congress Collections", select "Manuscript" to search only Manuscript Division collections.