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Finding Quotations

Tips and Additional Resources

While this guide has provided examples of some specific quotation dictionaries, keep in mind that many of them exist in several editions. Searching other libraries or book listings by author, title, or subject may be more fruitful than searching by ISBN (International Standard Book Number).

Browse Subject Headings

Search Also Under: "Quotations" can also appear as a subdivision under names of individual persons, families, and sacred works, and under classes of persons and ethnic groups; the subdivision string "Sacred books--Quotations" can appear under religions, e.g. Buddhism--Sacred books--Quotations; and, the subdivision "Quotations, maxims, etc." can appear under names of countries, cities, etc., and topical headings

Note:  Collections of original quotations in one language as well as collections translated from various languages into one language are entered under the headings "Quotations, English" (French, Latin, German, etc.). Collections translated from one language are entered under the original language.

Narrower Terms: These subject headings (e.g., "Proverbs," "Last words," etc.) can also lead to materials on finding particular types of quotations.

Examples of More Subject Browses

These terms should be useful for searching most academic and public library catalogs, or reference librarians can direct you available sources. For a larger catalog showing the holdings of more than 10,000 libraries, search:

As described in the Quotations and Misquotations section, some famous quotations have been attributed to the wrong individuals. The following books describe the misattribution and, in many cases, discuss the methods for verifying the true source(s) of the quotation.

The fascinating history of quotation compilations and methods for finding quotations can be found in the following sources.  The links below go to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog.


The Harvard Library Bulletin, Summer 2003, Volume 14 Number 2, has two extensive articles on "Bartlett's Familiar Quotations" and its history.

  • Cohen, Michael David. "Bartlett's Familiar Quotations: 'A Glancing Bird's Eye View' by a 'Morbid Scholiast.,'" pages 57-78.
  • Hancher, Michael. "Familiar Quotations," pages 13-54.

Handbook of Familiar Quotations London: John Murray, 1853 was acknowledged as a predecessor to the first edition of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations.

Reference librarians research and answer many questions about quotations. Below are some examples of quotations research from librarians in the Main Reading Room at the Library of Congress.

Case Study #1

Finding Quotes from Poems

Librarians are often asked to find a poem when a researcher knows a line or two but cannot remember the title or author. Research strategies for finding poems are often similar to those used to search for quotations.

For examples and tips for finding poems, see:

Case Study #2

Translation Issues

EXAMPLE 1 - Proust's Remembrance of Things Past

For a footnote, a patron needed to locate a page number for a quote from Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past and was flexible about which edition was used. The quotation provided was:

"Only through art can we get outside ourselves and know another's view of the universe which is not the same as ours and see landscapes which would otherwise have remained unknown."

The librarian began with online searching through Google Books and the HathiTrust Digital Library. They could not find any freely-available, full-text editions in English online of this book, but  these sites can often be used to search for phrases or lines within books. Citations and page numbers are provided so the librarian followed up by checking print editions. Searching the full quotation was not fruitful. It is sometimes necessary to search on portions of the quotation. Proust as the author with the book title Remembrance of Things Past and the phrase "only through art" and "view of the universe" were originally unsuccessful. Ultimately, the librarian tried searching more broadly using the terms --  proust, landscape, and universe (all of these words, not as a phrase - using least common words). Citations for several different editions with variations on the quotation were located as shown below:

"Through art alone are we able to emerge from ourselves, to know what another person sees of a universe...."

"By art alone we are able to get outside ourselves, to know what another sees of this universe which for him is not ours, the landscapes of which would remain as unknown to us as those of the moon."

The meaning is essentially the same, but the translator has selected slightly different wording. Even the title Remembrance of Things Past has been translated as In Search of Lost Time in several different editions.

EXAMPLE 2 - Elie Wiesel's Night

Again, an author and title were provided, but it is time consuming to try to skim an entire book looking for a specific quotation.The librarian was told the quote was from Night by Elie Wiesel:

“Each question possesses a power that does not lie in the answer.”

Variations in translation led me to:

"He explained to me, with great emphasis, that every question possessed a power that was lost in the answer..."

While some search engines and databases allow for truncation and wildcard searching which could help find possesses vs. possessed, not all have this capability, nor would they be useful for variations such as each and every.

Case Study #3

Breaking a Quotation into Smaller Phrases

A researcher was looking for the original source of a quotation by George Earle Chamberlain frequently cited on the Internet with no attribution but with a date of January or March 26, 1917:

"The Carnegie-Rockefeller influence is bad. In two generations they can change the minds of the people to make them conform to the cult of Rockefeller or the cult of Carnegie, rather than to the fundamental principles of American democracy."

While the librarian found that the exact quotation above had been attributed to Chamberlain frequently online and even in published works, they found that the quotation is an amalgam of several statements made by Chamberlain and Washington Senator Miles Poindexter.

The long quotation was broken into smaller phrases and searched individually using Google. By doing this, the librarian found that the original source for the quotes was in the Congressional Record (proceedings and debates of the U.S. Congress). Once that was determined, the full text of the Congressional Record was searched (using the online subscription database ProQuest Congressional).

Page 2043 of the Congressional Record for January 26, 1917 indicates that Senator Chamberlain said,

"I venture to say that if you put the educational system of this country in the hands any particular class of individuals, in two generations they can practically change the form of our Government by…"

Further down the page, the record shows that it was Senator Poindexter who referred to the

"cult of Rockefeller, the cult of Carnegie..."

54 Cong. Rec. 2043 (1917). Accessed through ProQuest Congressional (a subscription database).

By searching individual phrases in the long quotation, the librarian found that several authors had erroneously attributed the full quotation to Senator Chamberlain without finding the original source.