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Help with searching

Manuscripts and Archives at Oxford University searches descriptions of manuscripts and archives from the special collections of the Bodleian Libraries, as well as some Oxford college libraries. By default, searches will be made across all collections and institutions.

You can search using search terms, search facets, or both. You can also use field-specific searching and Boolean searches to construct more complex or precise queries.

Search terms search across all information held in Manuscripts and Archives at Oxford University, including Shelfmarks, Titles, People, Places, Languages, Physical Descriptions, Provenance, Subjects and Contents.

Facets constrain a search, and can be used in combination with or instead of keywords.

Searching using search terms

Search terms match against the descriptions of items, collections and people. Different items have been described to different levels of detail and not all descriptive fields are present for all records, so please be mindful that your search might not return all items held in Oxford relevant to your research.

The most reliable terms to search on are shelfmarks, the names of people and places, the titles of textual works, and languages. We recommend using facets to constrain your query where possible.

Search terms are combined using AND logic by default, so where more than one word or term is entered, only records containing all the terms will be returned. To search using OR logic, see Boolean searching.

Searching using facets

The search facets can be used to constrain a search using controlled values. These can be used instead of or in combination with a search term. The facet types are:

  • Date: the date of origin of an item or collection, where known. The ‘from’ and ‘to’ boxes can be used to specify a date range. These values can also be set using the sliders. Please note not all items have been catalogued with a date.
  • Language: the language of textual or spoken content in an item, where recorded. Items can have more than one language value.
  • Available Online: whether the item is available to view online. In some cases only parts of an item may be available to view online.
  • Source Catalogue: the online catalogue from which the record is drawn.
  • Holding Institution: the holding institution of the object. The majority of items described in Manuscripts and Archives at Oxford University are held by the Bodleian Libraries, while some are held by Oxford colleges.
  • Record Type: whether the record refers to an Item, Collection or Person.

Field specific searches

The interface supports field-specific searching for selected descriptive fields, using the drop down menu in the search box. Search terms will be constrained to search only the text found under these fields. The available field-specific search options are: Name, Title, People and Physical descriptions. You can also search for an exact phrase using this dropdown.

Search results

Search results will show, where available, a result’s Record Type, Title, Shelfmark, Holding Institution, Summary, Date, Language, Related People, Source Catalogue, and whether an item is available to view online. If a search term was entered, up to 2 snippets will show where the search term(s) appear in the record text.

Sorting searches

Search results are ordered with the most relevant results first by default (or alphabetically by shelfmark if no search term is entered). This can be adjusted to sort by date, shelfmark or title.

Boolean searching

Boolean searching is supported. Use “AND” and “OR” to set how search terms should be combined. The default behaviour is AND.

Wildcard searching

Wildcard characters can be used to search partial matches on words. A question mark (?) will match any single character. An asterisk (*) will match one or more characters. For example, photograph* will match “photograph”, “photography” or “photographer”.

Plural and possessive forms of common English words will be matched automatically. For example, report will also match reports, and Augustine’s will also match Augustine.

Tips for searching

Different items have been catalogued to different levels of detail, and not everything has been catalogued online. If you’re having trouble finding something:

  • Consult the Bodleian Libraries subject guides, detailed finding aids and college libraries and archives pages for more information about the collections.
  • Useful terms to search for are the names of people or places, or the titles of intellectual works.
  • Try more general search terms, or alternate terms. To search for alternate search terms together, Boolean searching can be used.
  • Try entering fewer keywords (by default, searches will look for records which contain all terms entered. This behaviour can be changed using Boolean searching).
  • If the name of a place, person or subject can be spelled more than one way, such as different historical spellings, try using wildcards. (For indexed person names, known variants will be automatically searched, but not all names appearing in records are indexed.)
  • You can search for an exact phrase by surrounding a series of search terms in quotation marks, or by using the option in the search dropdown menu.
  • Topical subject terms can be helpful in finding some records, but not all source catalogue records include subject headings.

Understanding records

Record types

Manuscripts and Archives at Oxford University contains three types of record.

Item records are records for individual manuscripts, or individual items within an archive. An individual item record can represent many types of object: bound manuscript volumes, manuscript scrolls, manuscript fragments, boxes of papers, correspondence, albums and scrapbooks, newspaper cuttings, photographic material, audio or video recordings, born-digital files, and a wide variety of other physical artefacts.

Collection records are records for an archive collection. Some archives are only described at the collection level, while others also have item-level descriptions. In these cases, Manuscripts and Archives at Oxford University holds both the collection-level records and individual item records.

Person records are records for people or organisations referenced as a creator, subject or former owner in a manuscript or archive description. Person records list all the manuscripts and archive collections associated with the person.

Source catalogues

The information in Manuscripts and Archives at Oxford University is drawn from eleven online catalogues maintained by the Bodleian Libraries. See What am I searching? for a list of the source catalogues.

The source catalogue descriptions for an item or collection record are linked to from each record page in Manuscripts and Archives at Oxford University.

Item and collection descriptions in Manuscripts and Archives at Oxford University

Manuscripts and Archives at Oxford University shows core information about items and collections, extracted from the source catalogues. It does not reproduce the descriptions in full.

Where present in the source description, a Manuscripts and Archives at Oxford University record will show:

  • The item shelfmark. This is the identifier for a manuscript or archive item used by the holding institution. This will be a range of shelfmarks for a collection record.
  • The item or collection title. This is a brief summary of what the item or collection is. Different catalogues structure titles in different ways.
  • An item summary. This is a longer summary describing the content of an archival item. Not all items have a summary.
  • A list of the textual contents of a manuscript.
  • The languages of any textual or spoken content in an item or collection.
  • The date and place of origin of an item or collection.
  • Physical descriptions of items, including information about bindings, physical extent, materials, decoration and the script of manuscript items.
  • The provenance and custodial history of an item or collection.
  • People associated with an item or collection.

The full catalogue description, linked to from a Manuscripts and Archives at Oxford University record, will contain further information about an item or collection. How much more information is given depends on how detailed the catalogue record is, but can include:

  • A navigable collection hierarchy for archive items and collections
  • Full biographical and historical notes for archive collections
  • Detailed information about the textual content of manuscript items
  • Further physical details, including dimensions, collation and foliation information, page layout and notes on condition for manuscript items.
  • Information about the availability of an item or collection, and any conditions governing access or use.
  • References and bibliographies.
  • The history of the description.

Help using special collections

See subject guides and finding aids.

Consulting items and collections

Consulting items at the Bodleian Libraries

All Bodleian Libraries manuscript and archive material is consulted at the Weston Library. Details for users of the Library, including location information, opening hours and facilities are available on the Bodleian Libraries website.

Bodleian Libraries manuscript and archive materials are designated Special Collections, and a full and unrestricted Bodleian reader’s card is required to consult them. You can apply for a card via the Admissions Office.

To order material for consultation, you should refer to the source catalogue page for the relevant item. On this page you should find a ‘Request this’ button which will take you to the login/registration page of the Libraries’ online requests service. Some restricted material cannot be ordered online – in these cases the catalogue record will contain details of the nature of the restriction and instructions on how to contact reader services to place your order.

Further information on ordering Bodleian Libraries material can be found on the Order special collections page.

Consulting items at colleges

For information on consulting items held at Oxford colleges, please see the individual college websites.

Viewing items online

If an item is available to view online, this will be indicated in the item record by the ‘View Online’ button. This will take you directly to the online version of the item.

In some cases, a single physical item may have been digitized multiple times. In these instances, the further digital facsimile links can be found in the ‘See this item’ section of the record page. In some cases a physical item may only have been partially digitized; this should be indicated in the record.

Requesting imagery

If you require images of an item which is not currently available to view online, you can request reference-quality scans of Bodleian material from Bodleian Special Collections via their Mediated Copying Service.

Professional, publication-quality photography of Bodleian items can also be commissioned from Bodleian Imaging Services.

Some colleges may also be able to supply images of their collections on request. Please contact the college directly to enquire.

Referencing and citations

Whenever you paraphrase, quote or use an image of our collection material in your work we ask that you include a full citation of the item. The exact format of your citation may be governed by the requirements of your publisher, but a citation for manuscript and archive material should include the following information:

  • The name of the creator, if known
  • A title
  • The item’s date (or n.d. where unknown)
  • The city and name of the library which holds the item.
  • The name of the collection from which the item comes.
  • The item’s shelfmark (and folio reference, where relevant)