Thursday, May 14, 2009

NYSHA Library Catalog

By: Wayne Wright, Associate Director, NYSHA Library

The Library of the New York State Historical Association is chock full of materials on the history of our state. Since everything has a history, the collecting scope of the library’s materials is broad. The library contains materials on each period of the state’s history from the age of exploration to the present; its communities - cities, towns and villages; its families; its people. It has a good collection on its arts and crafts, its agriculture, its manufactures, its material culture, its songs, its religions – just about anything you can think of concerning New York’s history and culture. In the past, researchers came to the library knowing its reputation as a great collection of historical materials, confident that the library would have something for them.

In the last few years, there has been a major change at the library. No longer do researchers have to come hoping to find what they want. Now they can check the catalog in advance of their visit to find specific items of interest to them. The library’s catalog, Pathfinder, is on the Library’s website and can be searched from any computer with internet access. Pathfinder takes it name from a character in a James Fenimore Cooper novel and is appropriately named because it can be a researcher’s path to finding just what he’s looking for.

Go to the Library website which is a part of the New York State Historical Association’s website. Click on Pathfinder Online Catalog. A drop down box will appear in which you can choose to search the catalog by author, title or subject. By typing in an appropriate search term, a list of items keyed to that search term can be found. It could be an author’s name (last name – comma – first name, e.g. Jones, Louis C) to determine all books in the collection by a particular author. A title (e.g. Last of the Mohicans: leave off beginning articles “a,” “an,” or “the”) would show all editions of a book or all books with the same title. Typing in a subject (e.g. brooms) will either provide a list of items in the collection on that subject or a list of standard terms from which the exact subject heading can be chosen to come up with a list of items. After finding the bibliographic citation for an item, its call number can be determined. You can then make a visit to the library with the exact title and call number in hand. The library has five online public access computers available in the lobby area for you to consult during your visit as well.

Like most library catalogs, Pathfinder is a work in progress. New materials are being added daily. Not all of the manuscripts in the collection are currently in Pathfinder, but the existing card records are being added in electronic form all the time. The “Keyword” search capability does not work well at this time, so library users are encouraged to use the subject search until the bugs in keyword searching can be worked out.

Give Pathfinder a try on your own computer and then pay an on-ite visit with a list of call numbers. It will save your search time. Of course, library staff members are always willing to help customers find the resources they need.

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