Manuscript Catalog Now Searchable Online

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Manuscript Catalog Now Searchable Online

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Library card catalogs have become an analog elephant in the digital room. Once the preeminent form of bibliographic record keeping, card catalogs have now become more of an artifact than an effective resource for researchers – especially those online.

The challenges, opportunities, and expenses related with the digitization of a card catalog are numerous. It is not simply snapping a digital photo of a collection item. The entire process involves several steps, from the laborious scanning of each individual catalog card, to the cognitive work of assigning metadata and other properties to the scanned card’s digital record so that the collection item described may be findable by researchers online.

Due to the costliness of digitization – both in terms of dollars and time – many libraries are unable to transform their card catalogs into digital resources. This serves to narrow the number of resources discoverable by researchers online.

Through collaboration with FamilySearch, HSP’s entire card catalog is now searchable online, allowing researchers across the country and around the world to discover the breadth and depth of HSP’s holdings.

Over its 190-year history, HSP has accepted into its care millions of unpublished materials dating from the 1500s to today. These letters, scrapbooks, paintings, photographs, sheet music, maps, and more tell the story of three centuries of American history.
However, until now, information about these materials has been “hidden” in HSP’s card catalog. Only on-site researchers have hitherto been able to flip, card-by-card, through HSP’s rare cache of Americana.

Combining efforts with FamilySearch, HSP’s card catalog – containing over one-million typed and hand-written cards – has been scanned in its entirety. Previously estimated to take several decades and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, the card catalog scanning project was accomplished in six weeks by two FamilySearch volunteers, Tome and Helen Longhurst. Click here to read more about their incredible story.

The scanning of HSP’s card catalog and its availability online is a boon to family historians, genealogists, and historians everywhere. From the letters of George Washington and William Penn, to battlefield maps of Gettysburg and scores of German folk hymns, the diversity of experience documented in HSP’s collections reflects the kaleidoscopic nature of American life, both in the past and the lived present.

Click here for detailed instructions for how to get started exploring HSP’s card catalog, or visit 

Click here for a detailed explanation of HSP’s card catalog and its principles of organization, or visit 

The card catalog scanning project is only one of several components of the HSP & FamilySearch collaboration. Click here to learn more about the published histories book scanning project and other resources available for researchers through HSP’s Affiliate Library status, or visit