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University of Oregon
UO Libraries

Book Collections in Special Collections & University Archives

This guide featires the Rare Books collection and Oregon Collection held by the University of Oregon Libraries Special Collections & University Archives

Searching for Rare Books

Searching for rare books that relate to your topic can be a challenging experience. This is due mainly to two factors: 1) the cataloging does not provide sufficient details, and 2) the search system is limited.

Most cataloging is often copied from an existing description of the same title found in OCLC, a national bibliographic database. Local catalogers will add some specific information about the book they have in hand, such as collation variations, ownership, provenance, binding and other physical issues. Otherwise, we take what we get from OCLC and that follows certain rules about how many subject headings can be added, the hierarchy of those headings, how names are formed, and how dates are stated, to name a few.

On the other side, once the data is loaded into a local catalog, the search system is quite funky. For example, if you type in choo-choo trains as a search query, you will likely not find anything related to locomotives. Typos also result in zero hits. These online library search systems are too literal and do not take advantage of  thesauri, topic modeling or other advances one sees in doing searches in Google or elsewhere.

It is also true that the library's search capacities do not mesh with how rare book scholars want to seek out relevant materials. The search system, and sometimes the cataloging descriptions themselves, does not provide adequate searching capacity of the location of the printing press, standardized and/or common names of the printers, detailed breakdown by genre, and dates are often so generalized to be useless. Keyword searching is often the only way to search these topics.

For that reason, we offer here pre-packaged search queries that were developed to assist you in your research. Using the "Advanced Search" option, these search links are 1) limited to Special Collections as a location, 2) use established standardized vocabularies developed by the rare book library community, and 3) are limit to the end-date of 1800. More filtering can be done by you to further manipulate the search query and you should always start your search using the limits just noted.