FAQ/Help Page for Digital Collections

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What's in the Digital Collections?

The Digital Collections consist primarily of over 55,000 documents (approximately 2 million pages) relating to New York State.

There are three main collections:

  • New York State Government Documents. These State publications are grouped by the agency that published them. They form the largest part of the Digital Collections.
  • New York State Library Special Collections. These documents include selected monographs, broadsides, maps, mansucripts, and scores from the Library's Manuscripts and Special Collections, as well as other Library materials. They are organized by format and by Dewey Decimal Class (see screenshot below).
  • General Collections. Items in this collection are basically published books that have a Dewey classification number.
Screenshot showing the high-level categories for the General Collections.

What format are the Digital Collections in?

Most documents in the Digital Collections are PDF files; however, there are also some other formats such as text, HTML and audio files. (Note: Documents with a format of MHTML do not open properly in Firefox. To open one of these documents while using Firefox click on the "Open/Print Document" link in the upper-right corner and the document will open in MS Internet Explorer.)

Other Digital Collections: You can also access other digital materials collected by the NYS Office of Cultural Education (OCE), which includes the State Archives, Library, and Museum. Collections include digitized photographs, manuscripts, and other material, mainly in jpg format. The majority of the items in this collection are from the NYS Archives, but it also includes hundreds of NYS Library images.

How Can I Access the Digital Collections?

The Digital Collections can be accessed from any computer with a web browser (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc.) and a PDF viewer such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. The Digital Collections are best viewed using an updated browser and a current version of Acrobat Reader.

Users have two options for accessing the documents:

  • Option 1: Search the NYSL catalog as usual. If a document is available online, there will be a link to it in the "Electronic Access" field of the catalog record. Click on the link to open the document.
  • Option 2: Access Digital Collections directly and search via the form in the left-side navigational bar, or select the "Browse" tab to browse through the collection.

How do I search for a particular document in the Digital Collections?

Search: Enter your search term(s) in the query boxes on the left-hand side of the page. Some general search guidelines:

  • Searches are not case sensitive.
  • Quotes should be used to search for a specific phrase or name.
  • When searching using the Keyword Search Box, be aware that you are searching the full text of the most documents in addition to the metadata. Try using quotes to narrow your search.
  • If you know the title of the resource you are looking for, use the Title Search Box (see Searching the Digital Collections - Field Searches) rather than the Keyword Search Box.
  • Wild cards can be used to substitute for unknown letters or to search for multiple similar words.  A list of wildcards and their uses can be found by hitting the Help button on the main page.

See Searching the Digital Collections for a more extensive description of Search features.

Left navigation column with Browse tab highlighted.

Browse: Search is the default, but if you prefer to browse, you can click on the Browse tab (see screenshot at right), which allows you to find documents via a predefined hierarchy. The hierarchy contains levels or folders, and documents can reside at any level within this structure. Click on "Library 1" and then "Digital Collections" and you are then taken to the two main folders of our collection:

  • New York State Government Documents
  • Special Collections

You can continue to drill down by clicking on each individual folder to browse its contents.  At all times during browse, the browse folder hierarchy in which you are currently browsing appears beneath the blue bar at the top of the screen, similar to breadcrumbs on a webpage. If at any time you want to go back up to a previous browse level, just click on the folder name link in the browse folder hierarchy.

Screenshot of a digital collections page, with the browse hierarchy structure, or breadcrumbs, highlighted.

Note: A folder may contain both subfolders and individual documents.

If while you are browsing you want to return to search mode simply click on the "Search" tab in the left navigation column.

Searching from within Browse is another option. If you are browsing a collection of documents and you decide that you want to conduct a search, simply type your search terms into the full text search box and click the Search button.  A search will be executed within the context of the browse folder where you began the search.

Will my search terms be highlighted in the digital document?

If you are looking at the document in the embedded view, the document will open to the first page that has your search term, and depending on your PDF viewer, you may see your search terms highlighted.

With Adobe Acrobat Reader, if you are using version 9, you can view highlighted search terms as long as your Adobe Preferences are set to "Enable search highlights from external highlight server." However, Adobe Reader X no longer allows search highlights from an external highlight server. Once you open the document you can use the Acrobat "Find Text" tool to locate your search terms within the document.

If you click on the "Open/Print Document" link to view the document, your search term will not be highlighted.

screenshot showing highlighted search terms

How do I interpret what I see in the Search Results screen?

Click on the title to see the full text resource. Click on one of the Browse Levels ("Browse 4:" or "Browse 5:" in the screenshot below) to see a list of other folders and documents in that directory.

Screenshot showing sample search results for a document that has multiple parts.

What do VP and "virtual part" mean?

Occasionally, you will see VP-1, VP-2, or the phrases "VIRTUAL-PART-1, VIRTUAL-PART-2" etc. This means that a large document has been broken down into smaller units, to make it easier to view the documents over the Web. For example, a 1000-page document might be divided into five 200-page files. In other cases, images in a document may have been scanned separately because of size, color or resolution.

The content is not altered when a document is scanned in multiple parts.

What does "Bad File Location" mean?

If you open a document and receive a "Bad File Location" message, it means the embedded Acrobat Reader cannot open the file. However, if you click on Open/print document in the upper right-hand corner of the screen and the document should open in the stand-alone Acrobat Reader.

How do I print or save a document?

ArchivalWare initially opens documents in the bottom half of your browser screen, in an embedded version of Adobe Acrobat Reader that displays only one page at a time. If you print or save from here, you have two options:

  • To print/save just the visible page, click on the save icon that looks like a single computer diskette.
  • To print/save the entire document, click on the save icon that looks like two computer diskettes.

screenshot showing the two 'save' options in the embedded viewer.

If you clicked on the "open/print document" link in the upper right-hand corner of the screen in order to open the document in the stand-alone version of Acrobat Reader (or your default PDF viewer), you will have the PDF viewer's usual options for printing the document or saving the document to your computer. For Acrobat Reader, these options will be in either a fixed toolbar at the top of the screen or a floating one at the bottom, depending on your version and settings.

Be aware that larger PDFs may be slow to open, depending on your internet connection speed.

Can I bookmark an item in the Digital Collections, or save it to "Favorites", so that I can easily find it again later?

You cannot use your browser's Bookmark or Favorites function to save a link to one of our digital documents because we use a session-dependent, dynamic method to generate and open items in the Digital Collections. This means that the URL used to access documents is not persistent across time.

However, the metadata for most documents will include a field called "Permanent Link." You can copy the URL in that field if you want to save, cite or share a link to the document.

Screenshot of results with permanent links highlighted.

MyWare: If you set up a free MyWare account in ArchivalWare (the software we use to provide access to our Digital Collections), you can use the "Favorite Documents" feature to save documents you want view again at a later date.

How do the Digital Collections relate to the Excelsior catalog?

The Digital Collections provide access to select online material referenced in the Excelsior catalog. Through the Electronic Access tag, a link is made between the catalog record and the item managed in the Digital Collections. Our online catalog displays this tag and clicking on it will take you to the item. More detailed information and subject headings may be found in catalog records.

What are some examples of Historical Documents available online?

Please see Historical Documents Available Online from the New York State Library.

Are any of these materials protected by copyright?

Every effort has been made to select and present material in the public domain, but some materials, including State Agency publications, may be protected by copyright laws.

The Office of Cultural Education, NYS Department of Education, is providing access to these materials for educational and research purposes. The written permission of the copyright owners and/or other rights holders is required for distribution, reproduction, or other use of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use or other statutory exemptions. Responsibility for securing any necessary permissions ultimately rests with the user.

More Questions?

If you have other questions about accessing documents in the Library's Digital Collections, please e-mail nyslweb@nysed.gov.


Last Updated: October 31, 2018