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Aaron Sterba
Max Chambers Library
Office 115F
(405) 974-2862
Subjects: Mass Communication

What are primary sources?

Primary Sources provide first-hand accounts of the events, practices, or conditions you are researching.

These sources are usually created by someone who witnessed or experienced events and documented them at the time they happened. Primary sources can appear in may formats including pamphlets, manuscripts, data, dissertations, speeches, government documents, maps, objects and artifacts, sound recordings and visual materials.

Primary sources can also include first-hand accounts that were created later in items like autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories.

(Domestic Science Class in Old North - 1915)
Photo courtesy of Archives and Special Collections

Catalog Search Strategies

Finding sources in the UCO library

Using certain keywords within library catalogs like UCO's can help you locate primary sources that may be in the collection. These keywords may include:

  • correspondence
  • pamphlets
  • sources
  • diaries
  • letters
  • personal narratives
  • speeches
  • interviews
  • oral history/ oral histories/ oral narratives
  • documents
  • archives
  • microfilm

These terms can be attached to a keyword or topic search. Examples include: "Civil War" AND documents, holocaust AND personal narratives, or "World War II" AND sources. 

These terms can also be used in a subject heading search. A subject heading search will often return more comprehensive and accurate results than those returned by a keyword search. In the advanced search, try searching for your keywords under Any Field, but input one of the terms above as a Subject

Finding Primary Source Collections on the Web.

Searching for digital archives online.

When searching for primary source collections online, there are some useful keywords that can be included in your search. These keywords, when paired with they keywords for you topic search, offer the opportunity to discover various digital archives through search engines such as Google. Remember that the term digital archive is not used exclusively to describe the type of collection we are looking for, so here are some variations that may be useful:

  • digital archive
  • digital library
  • digital collection
  • digital repository
  • virtual archive
  • virtual library
  • virtual collection
  • online archive 
  • online library
  • online collection

Searching with a combination of the terms listed above and keywords describing your topic can be used to discover digital archives. This can be done using Google's Advanced Search feature. One way to find Google advance search is to simply search for "advanced search" in Google. 

In the field labeled "all these words," enter the most useful keywords for your topic or research question.

In the field labeled "any of these words," enter a string of the terms above. It should look like this: "virtual archive" "online collection" "digital collection." 

In the field labeled "cite or domain" you can limit what type of web site that will show up in your results. Put in .edu or .gov to find sources that are most likely reputable and trustworthy. Always remember however, to evaluate every source that you encounter, especially on the web.