I don't know about you but I find most online catalogs for the holdings of libraries fairly easy to search. There are enough clearly labeled, understandable search filters in order to make the search engine do what you want it to do -- find meaningful results. But when it comes to the online search/databases for the holdings of archives I seem to pull out more hair than results. These particular search engines do not seem to be so public-friendly.
Here are two things I learned to draw some results out instead of hair. Of course, if items have not been added to the online catalog by the archive/library no amount of searching will find them.
Do you want to find out what the Archives of Ontario has that is from other libraries/archives, such as the Library and Archives of Canada or elsewhere? Knowing this could save you a trip, or allow you to spend more time on collections not available by other means.
|Archives of Ontario|
Want to see what items came from just a particular place? Along with "Diffusion Microfilm" for the Levels of Description, enter that particular place in the keyword field. The trick to this is knowing/realizing what name the Archives of Ontario used for that originating entity. In the case of the Library and Archives of Ontario, enter "National Archives of Canada" in the keyword field. As of yesterday, this gave me 55 results.
I knew I had used some materials during my 2012 Archives of Ontario visit that are now digitized by the Library and Archives of Canada, I just needed to find the online description to confirm it and searching by item name was not working. (I will not say how long this took for me to solve.)
I am not positive if the Archives of Ontario has any items from the Library portion of the Library and Archives of Canada or not. If the Archives of Ontario does, you should find them in the non-specific "Diffusion Microfilm" search. Once you learn how the Archives of Ontario named the originating entity you can revise your search to just focus on that one place.
Do you want to know an alternate way to bring a description up for a collection? This might not work everywhere but there might be a similar cataloging feature that works in your favor.
|Library and Archives of Canada|
So then I realized that the online digitized microfilm description showed a MIKAN number. I seem to have remembered this number was unique and sure enough under the Archives Search using Advanced Search I could change the "any keyword" to "MIKAN number" and enter just the MIKAN number to find the description result I wanted.
I wondered what exactly a MIKAN number was so I searched for the answer. From one of the results -- the LAC's own blog site, I learned that "MIKAN is a computer system for searching, creating, and modifying information about archival materials." The MIKAN system automatically assigns a unique record number to a record at all levels of description (fonds, series, accession, file, item.) It gets placed on everything because it is mandatory field. I don't know if the MIKAN system is used by all (or just some) Canadian archives, or if other archives elsewhere use it or a similar system. Regardless, I doubt a MIKAN number for an item at one facility would be the same at another.
I think part of the problem I was having in this case is that the online collection name does not always exactly match the collection name in the holdings. Another problem is that quite a few of the Archives descriptions appear to be in the process of revision.
So if you are having problems searching a catalog, take a moment to study the advanced search interface to see if you can determine what filter fields you have to work with and try an alternate method. Of course, see if there are any help guides or videos available to view. If these do not hold your answers, often there is a way you can contact a library/archive staff representative and ask a question. But you may need to wait for an answer, especially if you are searching after hours.
Hopefully tomorrow I will post the article I intended to write.
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