Discovering what's in the ALPLM's vast collection

12/8/2020 cbw

By Lisa Horsley

The core mission for many libraries is to make sure their patrons are aware of the resources the library has to offer. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library is no different. What is different for our institution are the types of resources we have available, the subject matter, and the infinite population we serve. Our research community extends past Springfield, past Lincoln scholars, and past the State of Illinois. Researchers and scholars from all over the globe utilize our collections.

The curatorial staff is charged with cataloging and describing all the collections the ALPLM holds. This is the first step in discoverability, capturing the data related to an item or a group of items. This data can take on many different forms depending on the material type. The goal for all materials is that anyone can look at the record of an item and be able to determine whether or not it’s something that came help in their research.

The Reading Room, where most visiting scholars conduct their research

Before the inception of the ALPLM, the library was the Illinois State Historical Library, which was founded in 1889. In addition to capturing data on new items that are acquired by the library, the curatorial staff is working diligently to update the legacy records. These records, which can date back to the 1800s, have taken on many forms over the years. They have gone from handwritten ledgers to typewritten cards, then added to electronic databases. Our various cataloging databases have changed over the years as well, migrating to newer systems that better suit our needs.

There are still many paper records, called finding aids, within the institution. These are being reviewed, updated as needed, and transferred into digital form. These digital records are then placed in our electronic databases that also have a public side so anyone can search and see what we have.

Curious as to what we are trying so hard to make discoverable? You can search some of our collections here:

  • Primo – holds the catalog records for our Published collection
  • ArchivesSpace – holds the finding aids for our Audiovisual and Manuscripts collections

Can’t find something? Just ask! There’s a possibility we have it, but it’s just not fully discoverable online quite yet. You can send your inquiries to

Horsley is director of library services at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.


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