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English Composition II Archival Searching for Students: Searching Digital Collections

This page will give you some general search tips for navigating digital collections. It is very important to remember that each Archives' digital collections pages will be different from another Archives' digital collections pages, so searching and navigating a specific collection may be different from searching a specific collection at another Archive. However, the basic principles remain, and these general tips will work for any digital collection.

How do I find out more information about a digital collection?

If you want to know more background on the collection, like learning more about a person's life, or about the history of an event, look for an About this Collection link somewhere on the collection's page. The About this Collection page may also be called something different, like About, History, Biography, or other related terms.

3How do I search for items within a digital collection?3

If you want, you can simply browse all of the items in a collection, or you can do more specific searches. A good way to search is to look for a search box on the page. Look to see if there's an option to just search within that specific collection--if there is an option for that, use it--it will keep you from searching across the Archives' entire set of digital collections, which will give you results you don't want. Use simple keywords in the search box (for example: workers, protests, cat, dog, weather) to get a broad set of results.

If you want more specific results, look for an Advanced Search option (usually, it's next to the search box). In an advanced search, you can typically specify a date, or range of dates; author name, exact phrase, etc. Remember that doing a keyword search (not an advanced search) will search for all of the words in a phrase (so if you search for women's rights, you'll get any result that has the word "rights" and any result that has the word "women's," not just the results that contain the specific phrase "women's rights"). If you want to search for items that contain the specific phrase "women's rights," use an advanced search.

Most digital collections will also have facets, or more search options, on the sidebar. These facets can be selected to narrow down your search (e.g., by date or by subject), or they can be unselected to widen your search.

If you need help searching the digital collection, look for Help options on the page--often, there will be guides for searching in the Help sections.

See these two videos embedded below for more help on searching digital collections. Remember that although these videos are for specific libraries, the same principles can be used on any digital collection from any library or archive. (There are more tips after the videos--keep scrolling!)

This one will show you how to use facets to narrow or widen your search:

How do I learn more about a specific item in a digital collection?

If you find an item you want to know more about, click on the item's picture. In most cases, that will take you to a new screen that contains more information on the item, like a description, the creator's name, copyright information, and more. Sometimes, that additional information will appear in a pop-up box when you click on the item. 

Help! I clicked on something and I can't get back to the digital collection I was looking at!

If you click on something and can't get back to your digital collection, try using the back button on your browser. If that doesn't work, you may have to navigate back to the digital collection and the item you were looking at by clicking on the link you were given to get you to the digital collection. You can avoid accidentally leaving the collection you were looking at by right clicking on all links and items and choosing "Open link in new window"--this will keep your digital collection's homepage always open on its own tab.