How to search the catalogue

Watch the video explaining how to use the Manuscripts Online Catalogue

The easiest way to search the catalogue is to enter something into the Search box at the top right corner of the screen. If you are getting too many results, try the advanced search form 'Search the catalogue' on the left-hand menu, or search the specific indexes for names and places.

Free text fields allows a very broad search across title, description, administrative history and subject fields.

If the free text search returns too many results, try searching the Title field only, or narrow down your search by searching for a preferred date-range or a collection document reference.

Document Reference is the unique identifier for each item. Use quotation marks if you want to find an exact match, e.g. "La Phot", "Pw L 112/1-2". This is the reference that you need to quote if you want to see the item in our Reading Room or order a copy.

Date of creation. The database can understand a wide range of date formats, such as 1500-1520; 16th century; <1200.

Level of description. The levels of description are increasingly detailed, from a description of the whole collection (fonds) down to individual items/pieces (though not all collections are catalogued in this much detail).

Subject term.Type something in the box. Alternatively, click on the blue 'Terms' button to access our in-house subject term thesaurus. Choose an appropriate term, and it will then display in the main catalogue search box, ready for you to click 'Search'. If it does not display correctly, try using an alternative web browser. If a search for a term in the thesaurus then returns no records, that means that the records containing that term are currently closed to the public and cannot be displayed. Please contact us for further advice.

Title of work. This allows you to search for the title of a literary work. It applies to literary collections only, e.g. Portland (Literary) and DH Lawrence.

First line/last line of poem. This field is also only used in literary collections.

Search tips

Searching the catalogue free text fields may return better results than the indexes - not all collections have been indexed in detail.

By default the advanced searches will conduct an AND search on the word or words you have entered, e.g. if you enter University Park it will find every record in which both words, 'university' and 'park', appear. If you enter the words within quotation marks, e.g. "University Park" you will get results for the exact phrase.

An AND search is also assumed if you enter search terms into more than one field. So for instance if you entered University into the free text search, along with a date range 1200-1300, and the catalogue did not contain any medieval material, you would not get any results.

You can change the default criteria by clicking 'Refine Search Criteria'. There are three ways of refining the search option:

  • With all the words (Boolean search AND)
  • With at least one of the words (Boolean search OR)
  • Without the words (Boolean search NOT)

For wildcard searches, use * before, after or within your search term.

How to navigate the catalogue

The Overview

Searching normally brings back an overview of multiple results. The overview table has three columns. By default it is arranged by Document reference number. You can sort the table chronologically by date of creation of the document, or title, by clicking on the column heading.

The bar above the column headings tells you how many results there are. If there are more than ten, you can click on ‘Next’ to see the overview of the next ten results.

Record view

The Overview only gives you a brief idea of the contents of each item. Click on the Document reference number of any item you are interested in. This will bring up the full record view of the document. Depending on the collection, there may be a substantial amount of further detail.

At the top of the record view page is a breadcrumb link allowing you to return to your search results. You can also navigate to the next or previous detailed record in your search results.

Collection hierarchy

Above the record view is a folder structure, showing which collection the record belongs to. You can see the whole collection as a hierarchical tree by clicking on the hyperlinked Document Reference number at the top of the record view. This brings up the Hierarchy Browser, with your record highlighted in yellow. You can navigate around the collection within the Hierarchy Browser by opening up the series entries marked with a +. If you click on any other line within the Hierarchy Browser, the appropriate record appears in record view. You can return to your original record by choosing ‘Record’ in the top breadcrumb (Advanced Search > Search Results > Record)


If your detailed record has been indexed, name or place index results will appear underneath the record view. Click on the hyperlinked ‘Code’ for the index entry which interests you. If the index has been used more than once, you will now be able to navigate to the other linked catalogue records by clicking the 'Click to see all linked catalogue records listed below' hyperlink. This will bring up an overview of all the linked records. Click on the hyperlinked Document Reference to see the record in detail. From a detailed record you can navigate through the hitlist by clicking ‘Next’ or ‘Previous’.

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