Guides to Collections

Bibliographies and Guides


Guides to Archives and Manuscript Collections in the United States. Comp. Donald L. DeWitt. Westport: Greenwood, 1994. 478 pp. Bibliogs. and Indexes in Lib. and Information Science 8. CD3022.A2 D48 016.973.

An annotated bibliography of separately published finding aids (through c. 1990) to collections of unpublished materials (including archives and collections of maps, photographs, oral histories, and films) held in repositories in the United States. Unfortunately, coverage excludes journal articles, exhibition catalogs, accession reports, discussions of individual documents, dissertations, dictionary catalogs (except those incorporating unpublished materials), and “indexes to large collections or bodies of records.” Guides to foreign repositories are included if they “describe records or papers relating specifically to United States history.” Entries are listed alphabetically by author, editor, or compiler in classified divisions for general collections, business collections, collections on ethnic minorities and women, federal archives, fine arts collections (with a section for drama, theater, and motion pictures), literary collections, military collections, political collections, collections of professional groups and organizations, regional collections, collections of religious groups, foreign repositories holding records related to the United States, and United States repositories of foreign records and manuscripts. The literary collections division records bibliographies, indexes, calendars, catalogs, checklists, and other guides to the papers of authors (United States and foreign). The brief annotations typically describe content and organization and indicate whether the work is indexed. Indexed by persons and subjects. Because of the unfortunate exclusion of journal articles, exhibition catalogs, electronic resources, and unpublished finding aids (frequently the most valuable guides to archival material), Guides to Archives is merely a preliminary resource for identifying frequently elusive and locally produced finding aids to collections of an author’s papers or to collections on literary subjects. Review: Carole Elizabeth Nowicke, Library Quarterly 65.1 (1995): 134–35.

The exclusion of periodical articles is remedied by DeWitt, comp., Articles Describing Archives and Manuscript Collections in the United States: An Annotated Bibliography (Westport: Greenwood, 1997; 458 pp.; Bibliogs. and Indexes in Lib. and Information Science 11), with coverage extending to the mid-1990s.

Union Catalogs


National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC). Library of Congress. Lib. of Congress, 2013. 22 Aug. 2013. <>. Updated daily.

Library of Congress National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC). 29 vols. Washington: Lib. of Congress, 1962–94. Former title: National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (1962–85). Z6620.U5 N3.

A union catalog of collections of manuscripts held in public or quasi-public libraries, archives, historical societies, museums, and other institutions in the United States and its territories. NUCMC records created between 1959 and 2009 can be searched through Archive Finder (F280), and records created since 1986 can be found in WorldCat (E225); the NUCMC Web site provides a gateway for searching NUCMC records in the latter. Users must remember that NUCMC is not a catalog of individual manuscripts (although a few exceptions are made for important items) but of collections of papers formed about an individual, subject, or organization or by an individual, group, or institution. Although the collections encompass many periods and countries, the bulk of them are of English-language materials. Along with original manuscripts, transcripts, photocopies, microforms, facsimiles, and transcripts of sound recordings are included. A typical entry includes person, family, organization, or collector who formed the collection or is its focus; collection title; physical description in linear feet or number of items; repository; location of original manuscripts if the collection consists of copies; description of scope and content, mentioning principal subjects and individuals (including sometimes the writers and recipients of letters); and notes on restrictions, provenance, and available descriptions, catalogs, indexes, or calendars. Entries for some extensive collections merely refer users to published finding aids.

Those who must consult the printed NUCMC for records created between 1959 and 1985 should note that it is indexed by persons, places, and subjects in each volume; there are cumulative indexes for volumes covering 1959–62, 1963–66, 1967–69, 1970–74, 1975–79, 1980–84, 1986–90, and 1991–93 (the volume for 1985 is not included in the cumulative indexes). Scholars searching for manuscripts by or about individuals should begin with Index to Personal Names in the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections, 1959–1984, 2 vols. (Alexandria: Chadwyck-Healey, 1988); subject access is offered by Index to Subjects and Corporate Names in the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections, 1959–1984, 3 vols. (1994); both incorporate numerous corrections and additions to the interim indexes.

Prepared from reports, indexes, and other sources, the entries vary considerably in detail, sophistication, and accuracy. Inevitably, the length of many descriptions is disproportionate to their content. Although collections at numerous major repositories are either omitted or incompletely reported, the breadth of coverage—especially of little-known or uncataloged collections—makes NUCMC one of the indispensable sources for locating manuscripts and letters by (and sometimes about) authors and literary-related subjects.

See also

Archives Canada (R4590).

Union List of Manuscripts in Canadian Repositories (R4590a).

Catalogs of Major Collections


Search Our Catalogue: Archives and Manuscripts. British Library. British Lib., 2012. 22 Aug. 2013. <>.

A catalog of accessions in Western languages since 1753 in the Department of Manuscripts and elsewhere in the British Library, the single most important collection of literary manuscripts. Search Our Catalogue: Archives and Manuscripts includes records for manuscripts cataloged since August 2009, along with earlier records migrated from the defunct British Library Manuscripts Catalogue, which was created by scanning print indexes and incorporating recent cataloging entries (although edited for consistency and corrected as much as possible, the records reflect the variations in accuracy, thoroughness, and cataloging practices of their sources and include errors introduced during scanning of catalogs with poor print quality). Catalogs not yet incorporated can be identified by clicking the Archive and Manuscripts Catalogues link on the About page.

Search Our Catalogue: Archives and Manuscripts has two search modes. Simple Search allows a basic keyword search of (presumably) all record fields; Advanced Search lets searchers combine keyword searches of three of the following fields: full text, description, personal name, place, subject, reference code (shelf mark), creation date, and user tags. Results can be sorted by relevance, descending date, title, or reference (i.e., shelf mark). Depending on the content of records returned, a search can be refined by categories (e.g., type of document, date of creation, persons mentioned, collection, and date). Currently, it is not possible to request a document through Search Our Catalogue: Archives and Manuscripts; see the How to Reserve Archives and Manuscript Items page (

Other catalogs of significant collections include the following:

  • Catalogue of Manuscripts in the Houghton Library, Harvard University. 8 vols. Alexandria: Chadwyck-Healey, 1986–87. Covers acquisitions as of April 1985. Many finding aids for individual collections are accessible through OASIS (

  • Madan, Falconer, et al. A Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. 7 vols. Oxford: Clarendon–Oxford UP, 1895–1953. To sort out the various catalogs and classification schemes, users must consult vol. 1, which also includes lists of current and obsolete shelf marks. Two indexes in vol. 7: persons, places, some subjects; owners.

  • Clapinson, Mary, and T. D. Rogers. Summary Catalogue of Post-medieval Western Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, Oxford: Acquisitions, 1916–1975 (SC 37300–55936). 3 vols. Oxford: Clarendon–Oxford UP, 1991. A continuation of Madan (see above). Five indexes in vol. 3: persons and places mentioned in manuscripts; owners and donors; manuscripts owned by Sir Thomas Phillipps; auctioneers and booksellers; binders. Details of additional catalogs can be found at the Special Collections Catalogues, Finding Aids, and Facsimiles Web page ( The Online Catalogues of Western Manuscripts ( is in progress.

See also

Sec. E: Libraries and Library Catalogs/Research Libraries.

Crum, First-Line Index of English Poetry, 1500–1800 (M1590).