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Locating Library Materials Pre-1950

A guide on how to locate pre-1950 materials in our library.

Other Search Options

If you have trouble locating older materials in our databases, there are several open access resources that are not part of our A-Z database list:


  • Bartleby: A repository for electronic documents and ebooks
  • Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB): Repository for open access books with links to free ebooks and links to purchase books.  It is primarily funded by public organizations.
  • Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ): Repository for open access journal articles, funded primarily by public organizations.
  • Google Books: Allows you to search all of the books that Google has implemented into their own digital database.  Not all items are free to access; however, it can assist you in locating items that you might be able to retrieve from another source.
  • Online Museum Collections: Many museums such as the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) have digitized their collections and can be viewed for free on their websites.  They often contain older works of art.
  • National Archives: The National Archives offers free access to their subscription of databases as long as you are using a computer at one of the their facilities in the United States.  A list of locations is here.
  • Project Gutenberg: A free online library for ebooks, many of which are older items (public domain).

Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB)

To search for pre-1950 materials in DOAB:

  1. Click on the "advanced search" option on the website's home page, located in the top left of the screen.
  2. Where the search page says "publication year," select "From" and "To" to input a span of years.
  3. Type in a search term (you cannot leave the search bar blank) to begin a search with the years you selected.


DOAB "Advanced Search" Page

doab advanced search page

Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ)

To search for pre-1950 materials in DOAJ:

  1. On the website's home page, click on "advanced search" located near the search bar at the top of the page.
  2. On the dropdown menu that says "search all," select "Article: Year."  This will allow you to input a year to search for materials.  There is no option to search a range of years.
  3. Input a search term to begin your search.
  4. Organize your search results by selecting "Article: Publication Date" from the "sort by" dropdown menu.  This will sort your results chronologically.


DOAJ "Advanced Search" Page

doaj adv search page

Google Books

To search for pre-1950 materials in Google Books:

  1. Type your search term or topic into the Google Books search bar.  Your search results will list the publication date underneath to each item.
  2. Locate the filters at the top of the search page.  Under the "sorted by relevance" dropdown menu, select "sorted by date" to organize your results chronologically.
  3. Under the "any time" dropdown menu, you can select to filter results by century (19th, 20th, and 21st), or by a custom range of years.  If you select the custom range option, it will ask you to fill in the dates.


Google Books Filter Tabs

google books tabs

Online Museum Collections

To search for older materials in online museum collections, visit a museum's website and look for a tab on their home page that indicates an online collection.  It is typically located at the top of the home page as part of their main menu.  Words to look for might be "search," "collections," "exhibitions," "online collection," and "art."  The image below is an example of the online collections search page at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  It is located on the museum's website under "Collections" and "Collections Search."  There is an "advanced search" option on the top left of the page, where users can search specific time periods.  Other online museum search engines function similarly, so this is a good example of where to find online museum collections.


Museum of Fine Arts, Boston "Collections Search" Home Page

mfa search page


Project Gutenberg

To search for items in Project Gutenberg:

  1. Locate the "Quick Search" bar in the top left corner of the page.
  2. Type in your search terms and hit "enter" or "search."
  3. By default, the search results will be sorted by popularity.  You can change it by selecting one of the organizers on the left side of the page.  You can sort your results by author, subject, alphabetically, or by release date.  The organizers you will be able to use depend on the broadness of your search terms.


Project Gutenberg Search Results Page

pg search results page


To retrieve items from Project Gutenberg, click on the search result you want to view.  There are several options to view the item, which are:

  • HTML: Online access in HTML format
  • Download as an EPUB file: Download a copy of the book as an .epub file.  It is a type of eBook file and can be opened with most eBook readers.
  • Download as .mobi file: For Kindle readers.
  • Plain text: Opens an Internet browser window with the book as plain text.
  • Download as a .zip file: Download the item as a .zip file.

Some books on Project Gutenberg have audiobook options as well.  If an item has an audiobook option, it will have a speaker icon next to the title.