Skip to main content
Banner Image

Guide to Using Special Collections at the Yale University Library: Find

Orbis: The Yale University Library Catalog

Orbis is the Yale University Library's online catalog and it serves as a powerful tool for finding information about the university's many special collections. Books, pamphlets, periodicals, microfilm collections, government documents, and oral histories are just some of the materials that one may search for using Orbis.

Advanced searching in Orbis is the best way to construct targeted, sophisticated searches for specific collection materials. The following can be especially effective in focusing advanced Orbis searches for special collections:

  • Limit Location to the relevant special collections unit
  • Limit Type to Archives or Manuscripts, Manuscript Maps, etc.

Additionally, including Genre/Form terms such as oral histories or diaries as a component of a search strategy is a useful way to focus a keyword search on specific forms or genres of material across all collections within the Yale University Library system.

Consult Help with Special Collections in Orbis for further information.

Exploring Primary Sources across Yale

The Primary Sources at Yale site provides additional information that will help you identify, find, and explore primary sources in all of Yale's libraries and museums.

Searching YUL Digital Collections and Specialized Databases

(Please note that this section is under construction...)

The Yale Finding Aid Database (YFAD)

The Yale Finding Aid Database (YFAD) serves as the central place to search finding aids for archives and manuscript collections held by many Yale special collections repositories.

Finding aids are tools that describe in varying levels of detail the contents of archival and manuscript collections. By linking collection contents to information about the containers that house those contents, finding aids are a key component of access for researchers who wish to request and use those collections. Finally, because it is important to understand the context of the accumulations of materials that an archival or manuscript collection typically comprises, finding aids provide information about collection creators--individuals, families, and organizations--and the functions and activities that caused the materials in the collection to be created, accumulated, maintained, and used over time.

Although YFAD does give users the ability to target searches to specific fields, the most effective way to search Yale's finding aids is using keywords. The YFAD Help page provides a very useful overview of strategies for searching.On the Advanced Search form the NEAR option is an excellent way to search for a multi-word term, such as civil rights (civil NEAR rights), in a way that will eliminate many false results from finding either of those terms by themselves or associated with other terms. 

Once you've found finding aids for specific collections of interest, one easy way to do more diligent searching within a single finding aid is to use the Printable PDF link in the navigation bar above the finding aid to generate a PDF version of the finding aid that can be keyword searched using Adobe Acrobat or another PDF display utility. The navigation bar PDF link is illustrated below.

Beyond Yale's Special Collections

Your research may take you well beyond Yale and New Haven. Use the following research tools to further enhance your inquiry.

  • WorldCat connects you to the collections and services of more than 10,000 libraries worldwide.
  • ArchiveGrid includes over three million records describing archival materials representing over 1,000 institutions.
  • Archive Finder is a directory describing over 220,000 collections of primary source material housed in thousands of repositories across the United States, the United Kingdom, and Ireland.