Computing applications continue to put increasing demands on secondary storage systems. These demands can be met by optical solutions such as volume holographic memories, which promise to provide the high storage capacities and data rates required by many input/output intensive applications. Holographic memories appear especially suited for large database storage because of their page format and fast associative recall ability. A volume holographic database system that is being implemented in our laboratory is presented. The discussion includes a description of the optical system as well as the development and analysis of an error‐correcting code suitable for the application. Also presented are experimental results in which good associative addressability is achieved for search arguments as small as 1/30 of a page. © 1996 Society of Photo−Optical Instrumentation Engineers.