New York State Library
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FAQ/Help Page for Digital Collections

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What's in the Digital Collections?

The Digital Collections consist of over 80,000 documents, primarily relating to New York State.

There are three main collections:

  • Government Documents. Official publications of New York State agencies including current publications and historic laws dating back to the 18th century. They form the largest part of the Digital Collections.
  • Special Collections. Manuscripts and primary source materials such as letters, diaries, maps, and posters.
  • Other Collections. Books and other materials that have been digitized on topics including local history, genealogy, and the arts. They are organized by format and by Dewey Decimal Class (see screenshot below). Numbers in brackets [] represent how many items are within that particular folder.
Other Collections subfolders

What format are the Digital Collections in?

Almost all of the documents in the Digital Collections are PDF files; however, you may occasionally encounter other formats such as text and audio files.

How Can I Access the Digital Collections?

The Digital Collections can be accessed from any computer with a web browser and a PDF viewer such as Adobe 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 box on top of the page.

Some general search guidelines:

  • Searches are not case sensitive.
  • Quotes should be used to search for a specific phrase or name.
  • Select the Advanced Search icon to enter specific information such as Title, Creator, OCLC/NY ID #, Agency/Topic
    Advanced search icon and side bar
  • 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 grid tile/"more" icon on the top left of the navigator bar and selecting Help in the drop down menu.
    Help icon location

For information about advanced search strategies, see the Searching the Digital Collections Help Page.

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 the folders.
Broswe icon location

  • State Government Documents
  • Special Collections
  • Other 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.

Breadcrumb hierarchy

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

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 (the magnifying glass).  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. For example, the screenshot below shows one of the results for a search on "trilobites." When the user clicked on this particular document, it opened to page 14, where the searched word appears highlighted in yellow.

Scroll through the pages or select the search icon (see screenshot below) to find other pages featuring the searched word.

Hilighted word search

However, if you "detach" the PDF to open it in a separate window, your search word will no longer be highlighted in the document.

Can I change the way search results are displayed?

The default view for search results is Row format but you can change it to Column or Thumbnail format by clicking the icons on the top right of the page navigation bar. In any view, click on the title to see the full text resource.

Row Format (default): Row view icon

Row format of search results

Column Format: Column view icon

The column format allows you to see more results on the screen. It is also useful if you want to sort the list in a different way: the default sort is by title, but you can click on a column heading to sort by that field instead.

Column format for viewing search results

Thumbnail Format: Thumbnail format icon

The thumbnail format can be a useful way to view the result list when the thumbnails have distinctive graphic content, such as posters or maps.

Thumbnail format icon

After opening a document, you can view more information about it (metadata) by selecting the information icon. Click on the highlighted sections to view results related to the document in different levels of the search hierarchy.

search results metadata

What do VP and "virtual part" mean?

Occasionally, you will see VP-1, VP-2, or the phrases "VIRTUAL-PART-1", "VIRTUAL-PART-2" ect., as part of a title. 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.

How do I print or save a document?

The Print/Save icons are at the top of the document navigation bar as well as the page navigation bar; the latter gives you email options.

Print and save icons

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.

Favorites icon and permanent link

MyWare: If you set up a free MyWare account in Knowvation (the software we use to provide access to our Digital Collections), you can use the "Favorite Documents" feature to save documents you want to 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 historical documents are available online?

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

Are 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

Last Updated: July 22, 2021