Skip to end of metadata
Go to start of metadata

Search Tips

There are two ways to enter a search in VIA, Quick Search and the Search page, described below. All VIA searches are word searches, that is, each word may occur at the beginning, middle or end of a field. Searches are not case-sensitive.

The Quick Search box appears on the middle of the heading on every page. To use this search, enter one or more terms into the box and hit enter. A multi-word search will search for all words to appear in the results. To search a phrase, put it within quotes. For example:

The search <Matisse flowers> will result in records containing both of the terms.
The search <"Garden of Eden"> will result in records containing that precise phrase.
For more search options, use the Search page, which you can access by clicking on the Search tab, which also appears on every page.

The Search page allows you to confine your search terms to one or more specific indices, and also allows you to specify an "and", "or" or "not" search in order to better define your search. Using "and" limits the search by looking for records that share two or more qualities; "or" expands the search by looking for records that could contain any of the words entered; and "not" excludes records that contain certain words.


Terms to be searched as a phrase should be entered in double quotation marks.

 "bear run"

Hyphens must be included in the search string where they would occur.


Use an asterisk at the beginning, middle or end of a word to search partial words


VIA indices are





Includes all words that appear in VIA records.

Search for Belinda Randall Anywhere


Names of people or organizations as creators, contributors, or subjects. These may be individuals, groups of people, corporate bodies or other entities that have contributed to the design, creation, production, manufacture, or alteration of the material

Search for Dufy in Name

Search for Olmsted Brothers in Name


Titles and alternate titles of works, groups of works, or surrogates

Search for woman in Title

Search for Venus and Cupid in Title


Topics, styles, periods, work types, materials and techniques

Search for flowers in Subject

Search for Mannerism in Subject

Search for altarpieces in Subject

Search for albumen in Subject

Search for Ming in Subject


Specific geographic locations where a work was created, found, or previously located, or specific geographic locations which are the subject of a work

Search for Boston in Place

Search for Uganda in Place


Terms defining the nationality or culture with which the object or the artist is associated.

Search for German in Nationality/Culture

Search for Mayan in Nationality/Culture


The museum, library, archive, or other institution, or individual that owns the work, group of works, or surrogate.

Search for Museum of Fine Arts in Repository

Search for Tate in Repository

Identifying Number

Classification numbers and other identification numbers assigned to the work, site or object throughout its history

Search for 375 G 553 80 E(g)  in Identifying Number

Search for 1899.9.B  in Identifying Number

Record ID

Numbers assigned by contributing Harvard and Radcliffe institutions to VIA records.

Search for HUAM891 in Record ID

There are also several ways in which you can limit the results of your search.

The first is Limit search to records that have digital images. This allows you to find only those records which have one or more digital images attached. In the case of a record with multiple components, this will limit the result where at least one of these components is a digital image, but does not imply that all component images are represented digitally. The images may be available to the public or may be restricted to users with a Harvard ID and PIN. When a record from a search limited to digital images is displayed, only the portions of that record where digital images exist will be show. Choose "show all" to view the entire record.

The next limit is Limit search to records that have originals at Harvard. This allows you to retrieve records which represent original items held somewhere at Harvard University. These include original works of art held by the Harvard University Art Museums, as well as art works, photographs and manuscripts held in other repositories such as the Houghton Library, the Schlesinger Library, or the Harvard Law Library. For example, the search

Turner in Name
and Limit to originals at Harvard

retrieves original works by Turner held in Harvard repositories, and excludes slides of such works as Snow storm: Hannibal and his army crossing the Alps, where the original painting resides in the Tate Gallery in London.

You may also limit your search results by date, with Limit search to records with dates from YYYY to YYYY. You may search a range of dates (e.g., 1905 to 1999), or search by a single year (1998 to 1998). The dates pertain to the creation date of an original object or building, or active dates of an archaeological site or project. Search results will include every record where the date or range of dates searched equal or overlap the date or range of dates in the record.

Search for 1500-1550 in Date

This will retrieve records including dates 1480-1500, 1516, 1537-1575, 1400-1600 and so on.

Finally you can limit your results to the holdings of a specific Harvard repository, by using the Find only holdings of limit. Here you can choose a specific repository from a drop down menu. In this case your results will be confined to those items (original or surrogate) in a particular library or collection.

Other search options

By default, each search creates a new set of results, independent of any previous results. Once a search has been performed, however, subsequent searches have be set up four different ways:

Create new selection

This is the default, and will result in a new set of results.

Add to the current selection

Choosing this will add records matching the new search to the existing search result. It is, in effect, a Boolean "or."

Search within the current selection

This option removes records from the existing result set if they do not meet the criteria in the new search. It narrows the search, resulting in fewer records. It acts like a Boolean "and."

Remove results from the current selection

This option removes records from the existing result set if they meet the criteria in the new search. Like the "search within" option, it narrows the search, resulting in fewer records. It acts like a Boolean "not."


Display/Sort Preferences

Image Grid Size:

To accommodate different screen resolutions VIA allows users to select from three preset image grid sizes.  Image grids are found on both the grid view and the grid/text view result pages.


  • Small: Grid View-3 rows by 5 columns, Grid/Text View 3 rows x 3 rows
      • Optimal choice for standard screens resolutions, i.e. 1024x768
  • Medium: Grid View-4 rows by 6 columns, Grid/Text View 4 rows x 4 rows
      • Optimal choice for larger screens resolutions, i.e. 1280x1024
  • Large: Grid View-5 rows by 7 columns, Grid/Text View 5 rows x 5 rows
      • Maximum grid size provides most images per page for users who prefer to scroll (rather than page) through results.


VIA allows a three tier sort. Sort options include Title, Creator, Worktype, Date, Nationality, and Culture.  Sorting options are performed left to right. A set that results in greater than 2,000 hits cannot be sorted.


On Browsing

Use Browse when you know the exact beginning of a term (topic, title, name, place, nationality/culture, and repository), e.g.:  

  • Topic: eyeglasses
  • Title: self-portrait
  • Name: Vanzetti, Bartolomeo 
  • Place: Thera Island
  • Nationality/culture: Persian
  • Repository: Harvard University Archives

Browse is not case sensitive, but it does take account of punctuation, e.g.:

  • Self check
  • Self portrait
  • Self-caricature
  • Self-portrait

A Browse search will search numbers, e.g.:

  • 1090 Centre Street

A Browse search produces 3 columns in alphabetical order, with your term (or the closest match) highlighted in the middle. 


Search Results

There are three options for viewing the result of your search:

  • Grid View is image centric and shows rows and columns of thumbnail images with minimal text.
  • Grid/text View gives a preview of the cataloging information associated with the image in a box on the left side of the screen. Thumbnail images with minimal text fill the rest of the screen.
  • List View shows thumbnail images on the left side of the screen with minimal text; the results run in a long scroll down the page.

The system default is Grid View.

When in the Grid/Text View, click on Preview record to see cataloging information in a box to the left of the screen. This box tells you how many components make up this record and can give you a clue about digging deeper into the record.

The    indicates that the record contains components. The components may comprise one digital image, many digital images or cataloging data for images that have no digital image available. In other words the icon means that, digital or not, there is more than one image associated with this record.

Clicking on the Sort button takes you to the bottom of the screen where you may sort your records by a maximum of three fields.

Using the drop down menu, you may save your whole results set to a Portfolio or you may save individual records.

Use <<Previous page  |  Next page>> (located on the upper right, above the results) to move through the records in your results set. When in the Grid/Text view, a thumbnail image (if one exists) and some of the cataloging information will appear in the box to the left and a red border appears around the corresponding record in the grid.


Understanding VIA records

Each VIA record begins by describing a Work or a Group of works. The majority of VIA records represent one work. A work might be a single painting, building, or photograph, for example, while a group might be a series of paintings, a complex of buildings, or a photograph album. Both works and groups can have Surrogates, one or more visual images that document the work or group, and which may have descriptive information of their own, such as a descriptive title, topics, and the location where the surrogate (usually a slide) can be found at Harvard. This hierarchy of Group, Works, and Surrogates brings together images that relate to a single object or set of objects.

N.B.: Works that appear in the context of a Group record may also appear in your search result as separate, stand-alone Work record if the individual Work matched your search terms.

Record Display Options

When a record is selected from a search result set, there are two possible views: Grid View and Full Record. The user can switch between these views by selecting the appropriately labeled tab. Whichever choice is active will remain the default record view until the user changes it or executes a new search. Both grid and full record views include thumbnail images where available.

The Grid View displays only brief descriptive data for each component of the record, arrayed with thumbnail images in a grid on the screen. Users can modify the Grid View display of a record:

  • Show selected: Clicking on the darker gray "frame" of a thumbnail image selects that image, while clicking on the frame again will deselect it. Users can select any number of images in a record. Choosing the Show selected option will redisplay the record with only the selected images visible. The number of images selected appears as # selected. The number of images that were not selected will be added to the count of # hidden.
  • Show digital images only: Choosing this will redisplay the record, suppressing all the placeholders for images that are not available in digital form. The number of non-digital images suppressed from display will be added to the count of # hidden.
  • Show all: This option is available when some images have been hidden from display, by limiting a search or record display to digital images only or by choosing to display only selected images. Choosing Show all restores the grid display to show all the images in the record, whether digital or not.

The Full Record displays vertically with all descriptive metadata and associated thumbnail images. When more than 10 surrogates are present, the Full Record display will be collapsed into a single line for each surrogate. The user can expand the entire hierarchy by clicking on the Expand All button, or expand only selected components by clicking on the relevant plus sign to the left. The entire hierarchy can be collapsed by selecting the Collapse All button, or individual components can be compressed by selecting the minus sign on the left.


Search History

Search History records all the searches executed in your VIA session and the number of hits obtained in each. Search History does not persist between VIA sessions.

You may re-launch any search by clicking on the "View results" button.

You may combine any two previous searches using AND or OR.

You may modify and reissue a previous search when the "Edit Search" button is displayed. The previous search terms will display on the search screen, where they can be changed, corrected or added to.

You may also clear your search history.


Heading Info

If you see the tab Heading Info with your search results, there is additional information that may help you find the images you want. When this tab appears, the words you searched matched a variation of one or more "preferred headings," search terms or phrases that have been used in the VIA catalog. This is in addition to any image records they may have matched.  When you select the Heading Info tab, you will see a list of preferred search terms and their variations that correspond to your search. Clicking on a preferred heading will perform a new search on that specific heading.

In VIA, preferred heading records occur only for names and places. There are no such records providing synonyms for subjects, for example.

A search on a preferred heading will always return image records, but image records may also exist in the catalog under other forms of the heading. Because information in VIA comes from many sources, some image records may use the variant forms of a heading rather than the preferred form, or different forms may be preferred by different contributors.  There may also be two similar records representing an entity as a name and as a place, particularly for repositories. One preferred heading will retrieve records for the Louvre, for example, as a repository, while the other will retrieve records for the Louvre as a piece of architecture.

In some cases, a record appears in Heading Info not because of a variant form of the search term, but because there is information about that heading that may help a searcher. For example, a heading record for the name of a corporation might provide the dates during which that name was in use.



It is possible to Bookmark a search or a record.

  • Select "Bookmark this search" or "Bookmark this record" from drop down menu
  • A pop up window provides a URL.
  • From the resulting window, you may copy and paste the link or right-click the link to add to Bookmarks/Favorites


Saving Records to Portfolios

Portfolios are groups of records that the user has pulled together for use outside of VIA.

Portfolios are not saved across sessions.

You may:

  • create multiple portfolios;
  • e-mail your portfolios;
  • download a portfolio in XML format for inclusion in course tools or databases.

When you select a record to save, the system will prompt you to save it to your "Default portfolio" or a "New portfolio". Once you have named your new portfolio, this also becomes a choice for portfolios to which you may save items. The option to "Save record" is available from your search results, regardless of which view (Grid, Text/Grid or List) you are using.

Upon viewing your portfolio, you may choose to delete specific records or select them for email or download.

If you choose to email your portfolio, you must enter a complete email address; for example:, or, The records will be sent to the email address indicated. The records will include a link to the digital image, if one is included with the record. This link can be opened outside of VIA so that you can use the image in a PowerPoint presentation or on a web site.

In order to download a portfolio you must also enter a valid email address. In return you will receive notification from VIA that your document will be found at a specific web address, or URL:

"The file you requested will be available at the following url. It will be available within 10 minutes. You will receive an email indicating it is ready.

From the specified web address the downloaded document (which includes links to images) can be imported into another application, such as the Instructional Computing Group’s imageBase tool.

For help with VIA contact VIA support.


  • No labels