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Archives Computer Catalog (ArCat) Information


ArCat is the online catalog of the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives. It is part of the University of Wisconsin Electronic Library and uses the same Voyager catalog software as the Univerisity of Wisconsin Library Catalog (formerly MadCat). It is important to understand that ArCat and the Library Catalog are two separate catalogs. Searching the Library Catalog will not provide information on Archives sources.

ArCat contains over 21,000 catalog entries for the Archives' holdings. It includes descriptions for almost all of Society manuscript collections, state government records, and local government records. However, virtually none of the Visual or Map holdings are described in ArCat. Card catalogs are available for collection descriptions not yet accessible through ArCat.

Searching Instructions

Instruction in using Arcat is available below, and from the "help" options within the catalog itself. The " help" from within the catalog is designed for the Library Catalog. It addresses user needs in detail, but discusses screens and options which may have been modified in ArCat. The advice below is written especially for ArCat users.

  • Start With Broad Terms:  Due to the relatively small size of ArCat and the nature of archival collections, it is best to use search terms which are not too specific. Broad, general terms are frequently more successful and, if an initial result is too large, it can always be narrowed. Also, if a term or name search is unsuccessful, try variations of your search or related terms and names.
  • Combine Searches:  Many searches are most efficiently accomplished by combining or linking two or three search terms. For example, if a researcher interested in civil war diaries entered either the term civil war or the term diaries he/she would receive a very large result including many collections which are irrelevant. Conversely, by combining the terms civil war and diaries the result is specific to the material desired. An example of combining search terms is shown below.
  • Truncate Terms:  Truncating search terms is often advisable. In the above example entering diar? instead of diaries will locate both the plural, diaries, and the singular, diary.
  • Use Guided Keyword Search:  ArCat users can choose from three types of searches, which are described in detail within the catalog.
    • Author/title, etc. This approach should not be used by most ArCat searchers.
    • Guided Keyword. This approach is recommended for most new users.
    • Keyword. Those experienced with the Library Catalog and Boolean operators may prefer Keyword.

GUIDED KEYWORD is a step-by-step method of building searches by filling in boxes and using drop down menus like those shown below.

  1. In the initial Search for box, enter a term, such as a name (usually last name first), subject, title, or phrase. To refine your search, combine search terms by entering search terms in the second and third Search for boxes. The above example combines the terms Civil War and diary/diaries and should be used by a researcher seeking diaries of Civil War participants. Using ? to truncate, diar?, retrieves collections which use the singular, diary as well as the plural, diaries.
  2. The default settings in these drop down boxes are best for most searches. Drop down menus next to and below the Search for box allow the experienced user to customize a search.  

  3. Click on the Search button at the bottom of the screen to retrieve your search result (you may have to scroll down to see this).

  4. In a successful search click on any listed item to display a collection description. After displaying a single item from a list you may move forward and backward in the list by clicking on the Previous or Next arrow buttons.

  5. To end a search and initiate another, click on New Search at the top or the page or New at the bottom of the page.

Additional Topics

How to Display Results
If only one entry meets your search criteria, the catalog goes directly to that entry. If several entries meet the criteria, you get a results list; clicking on an entry on the list takes you to that description. You can move through multiple entries by entering the first one then clicking on Next or Previous at the top or bottom of the screen. Or click on the "Return to Titles" button at the top of the screen to return to the list.

Some kinds of searches give you first a list of headings which meet your criteria and which in turn are linked to the appropriate title lists. In these cases you'll also see a "Return to Headings" button.

You can look at catalog entries in three different displays: the Full, Brief, and MARC. The default is the Full, which is the most informative display. It includes general descriptive information (from the Bibliographic portion of the record) and below separate segments called Holdings that indicate the call number and location of the various portions of the collection described.

How to Print, Save, or E-mail Results
You can print a single description or a screen of a results list by clicking on the print icon at the top of the screen. You can print a single entry, a screen of a results list, or several entries which you have selected on a list, by using the options in the Print-Save-E-mail box at the bottom of the screen. The Library Catalog Help explains these procedures thoroughly; the only difference is that is ArCat, you always get the Full display.

Search Limits
You must set limits before typing in your search terms.  You will see a Set Limits button on the search screens for Author/Title, etc.; Guided Keyword; and Keyword. These allow you to set a criteria which will limit all your subsequent searches until you turn it off by clicking on the Undo Limits button. More general details on Limits are available in the hints at the top of the Limits page and in the Library Catalog Help.

ArCat allows four kinds of limits: Year, Language, Medium, Location.

YEAR: In the old version of ArCat, you could limit a search by date effectively. That is no longer the case. Though some ArCat entries date only from a single year, most date from a range of years so have a beginning date and an ending date. The Voyager Year limit looks only at the beginning dates. So a search limited by date will get some of the entries you want to see but not all of them.

LANGUAGE: The Language limit selects entries for materials which are mainly in the indicated language, but will not pick up entries describing materials only partially in that language.

MEDIUM: This will allow retrieval, e.g., of microform or sound materials only.  Because only a few of the Archives visual materials holdings are yet included in the catalog, the limits for those media are largely redundant options for now.

LOCATION: The location choices allow you to limit searches to a single Area Research Center, all Centers, or combinations of Center and/or Madison locations (for combinations, hold down the Control key when clicking on your choices).

Selecting "Unprocessed Accessions" limits subsequent searches to materials not yet fully organized and described. It should be noted that a few holdings physically at Area Research Centers are still considered unprocessed so an ARC limit will miss those items because they are assigned the "Unprocessed Accessions" location.

Searching Call Numbers
The call number search found in Guided Keyword will be reliable for the "main" call number for processed holdings (e.g. Dane Series 273 or U.S. Mss 17AF) and for all accession numbers which function as call numbers for unprocessed holdings (e.g. M84-370 or C1997/066). However additional call numbers, usually assigned to manuscript collections which include several different media, will not be retrieved.

Sets and Search History
In the previous version of ArCat, you could go back to the results sets of previous searches and could combine these sets. You can do the former in the Voyager ArCat but not the latter. After you have done a search, a "Search History" button will be among the choices at the top of your screen. Clicking on it will take you to a list of your previous searches. Clicking on one of those searches will re-execute that search. (But beware if you have been using Search Limits-The search will not use limits in place at the time it was first executed but will be done using limits you currently have set or no limits if that is your current setting.)

Other Finding Aids Mentioned in the Catalog Entries
Many of the catalog entries mention registers, inventories, indexes, or other finding aids which exist. A major Archives' goal in the next few years is to make these tools also available online. As this happens, catalog entries will be updated to include a link to the finding aids on which users can click to see the additional information these aids provide. Look for the label "Internet Links" within the catalog descriptions.

Are the Materials Themselves Available Online?
Very, very few of the holdings will be available online in the foreseeable future. For those that are, a link in the catalog entry will lead you to them. Again look for the label "Internet Links."

No ArCat Command Interface
The Library Catalog has a command interface version of the catalog as well as the web version. ArCat however exists only in the web version.


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