Students often think about dusty archives and special collections when thinking about primary sources when, in fact, primary sources are available in all types of collections and formats. Widespread digitization efforts have made access to primary sources easier in more than one way: Not only are many primary sources accessible anytime and anywhere on the world-wide web or through the Library’s online collections, but their content can now be reviewed much faster through simple keyword searches. Where in the past a scholar had to spend many hours reading through page after page of a single source, the student today can quickly find keywords of interest in the text of multiple sources with comparatively little effort. A good example for this change in research practices is the Digital Edition of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson: with a few simple keystrokes I was able to find all 26 instances of the word moose in Thomas Jefferson’s papers, instead of laboriously working my way through 33 print volumes.
Falvey has a wide variety of primary sources in its digital collections, such as the complete archives of the New York Times, all 96,000 titles printed in England between 1473 and 1700 through Early English Books Online, 150,000 book titles published in the eighteenth century through Eighteenth Century Collections Online, both series of Early American Imprints and American Periodicals Series Online to name but a few of the more outstanding collections. Many other primary sources remain accessible only via microfilm or microfiche as well as “hidden away” in print volumes spread throughout Falvey’s sizable collection.
Primary sources can be anywhere in the Library’s collections, not just in the archives, but students need help in locating them. The Library has set up an online Primary Sources Research Guide for this purpose. The guide includes numerous examples of potential types of primary sources as well as a list of Library of Congress subject headings used to describe primary sources. Hyperlinks take the student into the Library’s catalog and online collections. There are also some useful tips on how to evaluate primary sources. Students can schedule a research appointment with a librarian via an online form.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments that you may have.