Skip to Main Content

The Harold and Mary Jean Hanson Rare Book Collection: Finding Materials

A guide to the holdings of UF's Rare Book Collection with tips for conducting research in similar collections

Searching and Using Rare Book Collections

Even though content of Special Collections is increasingly available digitally, the language used to describe and catalogue these materials has been the purview of scholars and bibliographers. Learning how to search is nearly as important as learning what to search for.

This video will give you an overview of how to find specific materials, as well as general subjects, in our library catalog.

Click Here to Request a Book in our Reading Room

Once you've found something that you'd like to request in our reading room, send an email with the item's call number, or the link to the catalog record to

Helpful Hints

1) Search the Library Catalog Only

Using the dropdown menu next to the search box, change the setting from "Everything" to "UF Library Catalog" It's best to start out with more general search terms and refine. Some more stable searches than titles can be for an author's last name, or a last name and part of a title.

2) Use the "Library" Facet to limit your results to Special Collections

To limit your search to materials held in our special collections, set the "Library" facet to "UF Smathers - Special Coll." Limiting the format to "Book" will narrow the search further.

Note: Rare materials held in the Latin American and Caribbean Collections will not be included in this search. If your query might deal with these sources, leave the filter off to start or select "UF Smathers - Latin America" as a filter.

2) Limit with other Search Facets

You can also use other facets to limit an existing search. The "Location" facet will let you select individual special collections. If an item is held in the rare book collection, for example, its location will be  "UF Smathers - Special Coll: Rare Books"

3) Use Selected Words Instead of an Entire Title

Titles for rare books have been catalogued according to a number of standards over the years, but often catalogued "book in hand" with the title transcribed off of the page. If all of the words do not match, your search might not return results. If your search for an exact title does not return results, try searching the main words in the title.

4) Beware of variant spellings and titles

For the reason above, spellings of titles may not always match the modern or uniform titles of earlier works. Printers would substitute the letter "v" for  "u"  and "y" for "i" in accordance with earlier conventions of spelling. This is particularly prevalent in European books and ephemera printed before 1800 and in titles that use Latin. Our catalogue accounts for some but not all of these variations.

For example, searching for the word "chirurgery" (surgery) returns results for "chirurgerie" but not "chyrurgery."

You might try looking in another database or external search engine to see if a scan of the title page of a book or another catalogue entry can be found.

5) Use Local Finding Aids as a Supplement

Our Reading Room houses a number of historical finding aids, handlists of materials, and the card catalogues that were used to provide access to the collections before the launch of our digital catalogues. Since these have also been sorted for other topics (chronologically, by provenance or by specific collection) and may contain additional information that was not migrated to the online catalog. These finding aids are no longer updated, so they will not reflect additions to the collection. The card catalogue does not extend past the 1990s, for example.


Other Resources

These outside resources can help you locate titles, authors, or copies of works that you can search in our collections. Some of these resources also provide links to digitized copies of books or microfilms held in other institutions


The Incunabula Short Title Catalogue

Provides a thorough list of books printed in Europe before 1501, with links to digitized copies where available. These items are catalogued book in hand, but searching the database for titles, authors, or printers can be very useful.

The English Short Title Catalogue (and Early English Books Online)

The English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC) provides bibliographic entries for books printed in English in the UK or its territories, US and Canada between 1473 and 1801. Its companion resource, Early English Books Online (EEBO), contains access to copies of these books digitized from microfilm with provisional OCR.

EEBO is a subscription database and requires the UF VPN to access, if you're not on campus.

The Universal Short Title Catalogue (USTC)

A digital project collecting national European bibliographies from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It includes information about the location of known copies, as well as digital reproductions, if available.






University of Florida Home Page

This page uses Google Analytics - (Google Privacy Policy)

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.