Finding Primary Sources in the Library

“Go right to the source and ask the horse. He’ll give you an answer that you’ll endorse.” -The Mr. Ed. Theme Song. A “primary source” might be thought of as “being straight from the horse’s mouth.”

More formally: “Primary Sources are the original words of a writer. The primary sources include novels, speeches, eyewitness accounts, letters, autobiographies, interviews, or the results of original research.” James A. Lester Writing Research Papers. 9th ed. p. 95.

Books:

There are two levels for searching our online catalog: Basic and Advanced. There are actually two types of Basic searches. Select Author, Title, or Subject when you know the name of the author or the title of a specific book you are seeking, or if you know the exact subject terminology employed by the Library of Congress. Keyword searches are less precise, but are a good way to determine the correct terms for subject searching or to perform a more exhaustive search.

Advanced Search has the additional capability of combining up to four search terms at once. It also provides search limits by location (e.g. Special Collections) by format, and by language.

Example
: You need sources from the United States Civil War. Entering “civil war” as a keyword retrieves materials about civil wars all over the world. If you enter “civil war” as a subject search instead the catalog will retrieve a page of entries, one of the last of which reads Civil War, U. S., 1861-1865 -- See United States History Civil War, 1861-1865. This is an example of a “cross reference” from a form which is not used, “Civil War, U.S.,” to one that is used, United States—History—Civil War, 1861-1865.” If you just click on this line it will bring back 164 general works about the Civil War and many pages of subdivisions. A subdivision is an aspect, sub-topic, or form of the subject such as “Bibliography” for a list of other works on the subject. Some of the subdivisions that are particularly useful for finding primary sources are: Biography, Correspondence, Interviews, Personal narratives, and Sources. If you perform an Advanced Search of “United States” and Civil War” and “Personal Narratives” the catalog will retrieve 179 relevant books.

For primary materials from Northeastern California, family histories, and genealogical information, visit the Northeast California section of Special Collections on the third floor of the library. Special Collections may also be added as a search limitation in Advanced Search.

Articles:

Use printed indexes located in Reference. These include:
Poole’s Index, 1802-1881, Nineteenth Century Reader’s Guide, 1890-1900, and Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature, 1900 forward.

Online indexes such as America History and Life and Historical Abstracts can be found on the History Resources page.

Online:

See Using Primary Sources on the Web.

compiled by Jim Dwyer, 9/14/99, rev. 6/4/08

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