How to Search the Collections

Collections at the Beinecke Library are described in a variety of databases and discovery tools.  Due to the varied and complex nature of the collections, there is no single tool that exhaustively searches every facet of the entire collection. Many researchers therefore find it worthwhile to use a combination of tools to achieve the most thorough search.  This page gives an overview of each tool and provides advice on when to use it. Beinecke curators, archivists, and librarians are also available to provide assistance in person or remotely.  To request a research consultation or to pose a query, please email beinecke.library@yale.edu.


Orbis (Yale University Library online catalog)

Orbis provides the most comprehensive search of the collections.

What’s in Orbis?

All cataloged books, pamphlets, periodicals, broadsides, published materials, single manuscript volumes, and small archival collections are discoverable in Orbis. In addition, Orbis includes collection-level records for large archival collections.  However, due to the complex nature of large archival collections, we recommend researchers interested in those archives also search Archives at Yale.

What’s not in Orbis?

  • Detailed descriptions and content lists, called finding aids, for large, archival collections.  These can be accessed through a different discovery tool: Archives at Yale (described below). 
  • Uncataloged or unprocessed materials.
  • Papyri (link to description below)
  • Cary Playing Cards (link to description below)

How do I search 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 Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library
  • Limit Type to Archives or Manuscripts, Manuscript Maps, etc. to search only materials that have not been published.   

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 on searching in Orbis.


Archives at Yale

Archives at Yale consists of detailed descriptions, called finding aids, of large archival collections. Finding aids allow users to discover, understand, and access archival collections. Finding aids describe the creation, arrangement, content, and context of archival materials.   They often provide detailed lists of correspondence, photographs, manuscripts, artwork, objects, illustrations, and other items contained in an archive. 

What’s in Archives at Yale

Detailed descriptions and lists of the contents of large archival collections, including collections that have not been processed.  While most of these collections are also discoverable in Orbis, Archives at Yale goes much deeper, allowing researchers to discover many more names, dates, and content types than are included in the Orbis record.  

What’s not in Archives at Yale? 

Archives at Yale does not include all archival materials at Yale. Materials not included here are:

  • Small collections and single-item manuscripts (such as individual diaries, letters, and sketchbooks). These are cataloged in Orbis, the online catalog of the Yale University Library.
  • Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, which are searchable in a separate database at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and in Orbis.
  • Most cataloged books, pamphlets, periodicals, broadsides and published materials, which are discoverable in Orbis.

How do I search Archives at Yale?

Consult the Archives at Yale Help page for more information. 


Beinecke Library Digital Collections

This is a database of digitized content from the Beinecke’s collections 

What’s in the Beinecke’s Digital Collections?

This database offers thousands of partially and fully digitized items from a wide range of materials from the Beinecke’s collections:  photographs, manuscripts, correspondence, artwork, objects, illustrations, and selected pages from printed works.  They include items we have scanned for exhibitions, researchers’ requests, and digital projects.  Due to copyright restrictions, many digitized images from the twentieth century are only viewable on campus or through the Yale VPN.  The image descriptions, however, are visible to all. 

What’s not in the Beinecke Library’s Digital Collections?

The digital collections database does not contain images of every item or archive in the Beinecke Library collections.  While tens of thousands of images are added annually, the database represents only a fraction of the entire collection.  Therefore, this tool is far more limited in scope than Orbis or Archives at Yale.

How do I search the Beinecke Library’s Digital Collections? 

Start with a keyword search.


Uncataloged Acquisitions

The Beinecke Library’s uncataloged acquisitions of manuscript material may be discovered in Archives at Yale, which contains brief records for uncataloged manuscripts acquired from 1985 to the present.

Brief records for uncataloged books and other printed material acquired from 1985 through the present may be discovered in Beinecke Library’s Uncataloged Acquisitions Database.

Search these databases for brief records of material not found in Orbis or the Digital Library. In general, materials indexed in both databases were acquired from 1985 through the present, although the databases include some earlier acquisitions.  If you are looking for specific works, please contact the appropriate curator or write to beinecke.library@yale.edu.

For more on identifying primary sources and other discovery tools at Yale, please visit Primary Sources at Yale.


Specialized Databases

Beinecke Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts

All medieval manuscripts receive brief records in Orbis and, eventually, a much fuller description in the Beinecke Medieval and Renaissance Manuscript database.  These descriptions are based largely on the Catalog of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, edited by Barbara Shailor et al.

Since it can take a considerable amount of time for a manuscript to receive a full description in the Beinecke Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts Database, Orbis advanced search is the most comprehensive tool to find medieval manuscripts.  Each Orbis record will have a link to the fuller description, if it exists.  Please email beinecke.library@yale.edu if you need assistance.

Cary Playing Card Database

The Cary Playing Card Database contains descriptions of the cards in the Cary collection, which contains over 1,000 complete or partial packs of playing cards.  Read more information about searching the collection

Yale Papyrus Collection

Learn more information about how to find and use the Yale Papyrus Collection.