Help Using the Helen Keller Archive

Table of Contents

You can perform a simple search by typing keywords in the search box and clicking “Search”. The search engine will return results that include all of your search terms.

You can also search using a string of words. They do not require quotation marks unless you wish to search for an exact phrase. For instance: searching for blue dress (no quotation marks) will return any items that include the word “blue” and “dress.” By contrast, if you search on “blue dress” (using quotation marks) the results page will only show you items that include that exact phrase.

You can then refine your results. For instance, if you wish to find materials about a blue dress in the 1950s, you can select “Refine search by” from the left hand column and choose “Decade: 1950 – 1959.”


Advanced Search

The Advanced search tab allows you to limit your search results by a specific date range. You can input the day/month/year and retrieve results.


Advanced Query Syntax

Advanced search allows you to use Boolean operators AND, OR and NOT.

AND – includes all of the words you’ve listed

NOT – excludes the words you’ve listed

OR – returns at least one of the words you’ve listed

For example, plymouth NOT new will retrieve articles about Plymouth, but not New Plymouth. You can also group clauses using parentheses, for example (hamilton OR waikato) AND river.

Query terms can be boosted to increase their importance in the search, changing the order of the search results. This is done by adding “^” and a boost factor at the end of the term, e.g. hamilton river^2 will treat “river” as more important than “hamilton” when ranking the search results returned.

Wildcard searches can be performed by including “?” (single character wildcard) or “*” (multiple character wildcard) in the query term. For example, hamilt* will match all words starting with “hamilt”.

Fuzzy searching can be done by adding “~1” at the end of individual terms, e.g. roam~1 will find terms like “foam” and “roams” as well as “roam”. This can help to compensate for errors in the text due to the Optical Character Recognition process.

Proximity searching allows you to search for words that appear close together in the text. For example, “John Smith”~3 will find results containing both the words “John” and “Smith” where they are no more than 3 words apart. So as well as finding “John Smith” it will also find “John J. Smith”, “John Frederick Smith”, “John Fullerton-Smith”, and even “Smith, John”]


Why is transcription necessary?

People who are blind or visually impaired rely on screen readers to decipher electronic text and make it readable through speech or braille.

The program responsible for generating automated text is called “Optical Character Recognition “OCR”. OCR is a process by which software reads a page image and translates it into a text file by recognizing the shapes of the letters. OCR software breaks the image down into recognized letters, numbers, and punctuation marks. Letters become words, words become paragraphs, and in the end the printed page has been translated into machine-readable text that you can read, edit, save, and have voiced by a screen reader or other device.

OCR allows you to search large quantities of full-text data, but it is never 100% accurate. Many items in the Helen Keller Archive are old, faded, handwritten, or contain elaborate fonts–in these cases OCR inevitably contains errors.

Most items in the Helen Keller Archive have been processed using OCR to ensure that screen readers can make full use of the archive. We are also working with volunteers in an ongoing effort to correct OCR errors.

Who is transcribing the contents of each digital item?

AFB is delighted to have volunteers working diligently to manually transcribe each handwritten document that is uploaded, and correct any mistakes that have occurred during OCR of typewritten documents, by comparing the output to the original image.

Do you wish to be a volunteer transcriber for this groundbreaking project? If you do, please contact Helen Selsdon at to join the “Captains of Transcription”!


“Tagging” allows administrators to add a new subject as an additional way of browsing the Helen Keller collection. For example, one could create a “National History Day 2017” tag for materials that relate to that year’s theme, “Taking a Stand.” This option allows administrators to create interesting collections that may not correspond easily to Library of Congress subjects.

Tags are available to the public, but only approved administrators may create them. This exciting feature gives visitors another way to explore primary sources.

Technical Requirements

In general, you only need a common web browser like Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, Opera or Microsoft Edge to search and browse this collection. To view or print PDFs, you will also need a PDF viewer like Adobe Reader.