Search Help

Search the collection

Search the library catalogues

How to use Collection Search

  • Tips for searching
    • Start with the obvious
      • Example: If you are looking for general information about Montréal, type montreal
    • Use multiple search terms
      • Example: If you are searching Montreal Canadiens, type montreal canadiens, rather than just montreal or canadiens by itself.
    • Type your search in either upper case or lower case.
      • Example: Typing paula martin returns the same results as Paula Martin or PAULA MARTIN.
    • Use an asterisk (*) to replace one or many characters in a search term.
      • Example: Type Wilfr*d to get both Wilfrid and Wilfred.
      • Example: Type patriot* to get results with patriote, patriots, patriotism, patriotic, patriotique, patriotisme, etc.
    • Accented characters can be used in Collection Search. The search engine recognizes the majority of words with accents. For common terms, Collection Search provides search results with and without accents. For example, a search for "Montréal" will include results containing "Montreal." However, less common words (like "Célestine" and "Celestine") are not always associated. Therefore, it is recommended to perform searches both with and without accents. 
    • Collection Search is updated with new records and new features every two weeks. It is recommended to empty your browser cache regularly so that you have access to the latest version of the search engine. To do so, when you are on the page, press CTRL+F5.
    • Collection Search – Advanced allows users to access the exact same search functions previously available in Archives Search and many more features. Under "Additional search options," select "Collections and Fonds" from the drop-down menu. This will provide all the advanced form options you need.

    If you get too many results

    • Make your search more specific.
      • Example: Search for montreal molson centre rather than montreal arena.
    • Use quotation marks if you want results for an exact phrase
      • Example: The search "paula martin" does not find Paula Andrea Martin.
  • How to replicate an "Archives Search" request

    Archives Search may not be available anymore, but it still lives within Collection Search! You can access the exact same search functions and many more features by using Collection Search. Just select "Collections and Fonds (Archives Search)" from the initial basic search dropdown menu.

    Screen capture 1
    Figure 1: Selecting archives search
  • How to use Advanced Search

    The advanced search settings in Collection Search are organized in three sections:

    • Section 1: the initial search parameters
    • Section 2: the keyword advanced search
    • Section 3: the additional search options
    Screen capture 2
    Figure 2: Three sections

    Section 1: the initial search parameters

    The first section lets you select the global subject you would like to explore (Archives, Library, Genealogy or Images). You can opt to consult documents available online or exclude them from your search. You can also limit your results to Co-Lab or our crowdsourcing tool, or exclude these sources from your search.

    Section 2: the keyword advanced search

    The standard keyword search will let you search LAC's collection with your own words by looking for specific terms, by searching for whole phrases, by searching for multiple unrelated words, or by excluding certain terms.

    Section 3: the additional search options

    The third section will let you dig deep into narrow subjects. The "Database" drop-down menu lists all the datasets included in Collection Search; for example, "Collections and Fonds (Archives Search)." When you select a dataset, the search options will adapt to your selection, giving you more ways to further your research. For example, by selecting "Collections and Fonds," you will have access to all the search options originally available in Archives Search, our previous search engine:

    Screen capture 3
    Figure 3: Datasets
  • National Library Collections

    Collection Search allows you to search numerous databases at once or focus your search on a specific database or group of databases. Amongst the list of databases that you can select individually are Collections and fonds (Archives Search) and the National Library Collections.

    LAC have added the National Library Collections to Collection Search to ensure that clients can explore all databases at once. Many researchers may prefer to leave out the National Library Collections from their research or vice versa. This is one of the many ways to perform a more surgical search in Collection Search and to better organise their research.

    If you prefer to solely research the National Library Collections and access numerous additional search options, use Aurora.

  • Glossary of terms

    When going through the results, you may find words that are unknown to you. Here is a short list of definitions.


    A group of records or archives from the same entity (source), with the same place of origin or history (provenance), accepted all at once as holdings in an archival repository.

    Accessioning is the formal process of accepting materials, which receive a unique, permanent accession number for basic archival control.

    Archival record

    Public or private materials that a person, family or organization creates or receives over time, which are preserved because of their enduring value or as evidence of their creator's functions and responsibilities. Archival records are unique and irreplaceable.

    Arrangement structure

    The intellectual and physical organization of an archive.

    The documents of an archive, called fonds or collections, are arranged in a hierarchy—from general to specific—that is, from the fonds level to the item level:


    (Sous-fonds—if it exists)


    (Sub-series—if it exists)



    (This information can be found in Finding aids)


    The person(s), family (families), corporate or government body (bodies) who created or accumulated and used a collection of documents or archives during the course of personal or business life.

    Conditions of access

    Access restrictions (identified by an access code) indicating whether documents may or may not be consulted for research and reproduction purposes.

    Edition statement

    The part of a catalogue entry relating to an edition of a book catalogued.


    The amount of material found within a fonds expressed as a number—for example, a number of pages, a number of items, a number of linear metres.

    Finding aids

    Tools to help access archival material; they include descriptive inventories, guides, accession registers, card catalogues, shelf lists and automated databases.


    The body of records and archives of an organization, institution or person, in any medium, created and accumulated during the course of activities and functions.

    Item (linked) part of

    A level of archival arrangement and description. A unit of handling.

    Language of material

    The original language of the archival material.

    MIKAN no.

    An automated record number assigned upon entry to all archival descriptions by the LAC MIKAN database system.

    A MIKAN number is different from an archival reference number and should not be used for the purposes of purchasing a reproduction or ordering material for consultation.


    The owners or guardians—person(s), family (families), corporate or government body (bodies)—of a collection of documents or archives before its formal transfer to and acquisition by an archival repository.

    Reference no.

    A formal alphanumeric code assigned to an archival fonds or collection, for example, MG26-A Sir John A. Macdonald fonds, RG24 Department of National Defence fonds or R13877 Huguette Oligny fonds.


    The origin of acquired material, usually private or public (government).


    Word(s) designating an intellectual work or archival document. There are two types of titles: formal titles and supplied titles.

    Formal titles appear prominently in or on the documents being described, are usually assigned to the document by the creator, and are considered authoritative.

    Supplied titles are assigned when no formal title is present, may be taken from evidentiary information found within the document or an external source, may be composed by an archivist, usually appear between [square brackets], and are an informed guess rather than authoritative.

  • Finding aids

    Did you know that the concept of the finding aid dates back to the very origins of archives? The ancient Sumerians created finding aids on clay tablets so that they could locate specific bureaucratic documents. We have moved a long way from the clay tablet, but the principles of the finding aid remain the same.

    An archive contains all of the documents created and used by a person, family, government institution or corporate body in the course of that creator's activities or functions. Generally called fonds or collections, the documents of an archive are arranged in a hierarchy, from the general to the specific; in other words, from the fonds level to the item level:


    (Sous-fonds—if it exists)


    (Sub-series—if it exists)



    Finding aids are tools that provide information about the archival documents held in a fonds or collection. While finding aids can take many forms, they are generally used in the same way. Researchers use finding aids to help determine whether a certain fonds or collection of archival materials contains the documents, photographs, etc. that they might need to consult for their research project. Finding aids are created for fonds or collections but can also be created for series and sub-series of very large fonds or collections.

  • Content list

    One of the most common types of finding aid is the content list. It typically provides general file-level reference information and contains the following elements:

    • Archival fonds or collection code (i.e. MG26-A or RG10)
    • Volume or box numbers
    • File number (and sometimes a file part number)
    • File title
    • Date of creation or date range of documents held within a file

    It does not provide content listings of all of the documents in each file.

    A content-list finding aid for a fonds or collection can appear in a number of ways:

    1. It can be attached to the fonds-level description as a portable document format (.pdf file). This is generally true for collections or materials acquired from private individuals (usually identified by collection codes beginning with "MSS"), as in the example below:

    2. It may also be accessed by clicking on the hyperlinked number found beside the "consists of" text. This is generally true for collections of materials acquired from government departments (usually identified by collection codes beginning with "RG").

    3. Sometimes the content list is only identified by a number in the text paragraph, which can be found beside the Finding aid field label in a fonds, collection, series or sub-series description.

    Content lists simply identified by number generally exist in paper format only and must be consulted in person (or copies must be obtained). Numbers beginning with MSS (e.g. MSS0211) most often refer to content lists for collections or materials acquired from private individuals. Finding aids composed of numbers separated by a hyphen (e.g. 12-13) usually refer to content lists for collections of materials acquired from government departments.

    For a percentage of our collection, there are no content lists available. For example, lists are not created for collections of less than 10 boxes of material. Many photographic and cartographic collections do not have content lists. Some older holdings of government documents also lack content lists.

    Not everything is available online; for some fonds or collections, the content list exists in paper format only and must be consulted in person. You may also order copies of material by following the instructions outlined in our post "How to Order Digitized Reproductions and Help Build the Digital Collection."

  • Access codes for archival records

    Have you ever ordered an archival record, only to find out that it is restricted? Archival records may be subject to access restrictions. To find out if a record is open or restricted, you must identify its access code. When you are in Collection Search, you can find these codes in the "Conditions of access" section of records descriptions (see image below):

    The most common access codes are 90, 32, 18 and 10.

    Open Records (code 90)

    Any records that are unrestricted and directly available for consultation are marked as "90: Open."

    Government Records (code 32)

    Some government records must be reviewed according to the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act before being made available. Records restricted under these laws are identified as "32: Restricted by law." For an example, please consult the Operational records of Prairie Northern Region record description.

    To request restricted government records, follow the instructions on our Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) page, How to make an ATIP request.

    Private Records (codes 18 and 10)

    Records that are "18: Restricted" can be accessed through an application procedure established by the donor. These restrictions affect what you can consult, as well as what you can copy.

    Records that are "10: Closed" cannot be consulted. In some cases, restrictions on closed records are set to be reviewed after a date specified by the donor.

    To find out which files are restricted in a private fonds, consult the PDF document linked under "Conditions of Access" in the fonds description. For an example of this type of document, please see the Lester B. Pearson fonds description.

    Restrictions vary (Code 96)

    Access code 96 indicates that within a group of records, there exists more than one type of access condition. For example, since the Department of Transportation fonds (RG12) contains records that are open (code 90) and others that are restricted (code 32), the fonds-level access condition are indicated by "restrictions vary" (code 96).

    Access code 96 can be applied to more than just fonds-level descriptions. It can also be linked to series, sub-series and accessions. However, it does not apply to individual volumes and files.


    Access code 96 usually means that there are more specific descriptions available for the records being researched. In some cases, these records can be accessed by simply clicking on "View lower level description(s)" in the "Record information - Details" section of a record description.

    In other cases, it will be necessary to consult a printed finding aid. To learn more, read Finding aids.

    To be determined / closed pending processing (Code 99)

    Access code 99 means that the access conditions for a group of records have yet to be determined. Usually this is because the records are being processed. In the following example, while the photographic material is open, the access conditions for the textual records have yet to be determined:

    Open, no copying (Code 95)

    Access code 95 indicates that the records are open and can be consulted; however, at the request of the donor, the records cannot be copied or reproduced.

How to contribute to the collection

You can have a hand in history by using Co-Lab: a tool to transcribe, tag, translate and describe digitized images in LAC's collection. The more work we collaborate on in Co-Lab, the more accessible and usable our digital collection becomes for all Canadians.

Become a contributor in two main ways:

  1. Take on a "challenge" of images, put together by experts at LAC, that would benefit from your contributions, or
  2. Use Collection Search to find the materials that matter most to you, and enhance them; you can now contribute to any digitized images and audiovisual material that you find when doing research.

When you contribute to images using Co-Lab, the metadata becomes accessible immediately, and it becomes searchable in Collection Search within 24 hours. If you create a user account and log in when contributing, you will be able to look back on your contribution history at any time.

For more instructions on how to contribute, consult About Co-Lab.

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