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Research Guides

Library Quick Start Guide for Students

Welcome to the Claremont Colleges Library! Use this guide to get oriented and learn the basics of what the library has to offer.

What Is a Primary Source?

A primary source is an original document relating to a particular subject, experiment, time period, or event. Autobiographies, journals, and diaries are considered primary sources. Original manuscripts and contemporary records, such as newspaper articles and firsthand accounts from the period, are primary sources. Creative works - music, art, literature - are also primary sources. Primary sources provide the raw information or data which scholars use in their research.

Primary sources enable the researcher to get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event or time period.  Primary sources were either created during the time period or were created at a later date by a participant in the events (as in the case of memoirs) and reflect the individual viewpoint of a participant or observer. Many different types of documents may be primary sources: books, government documents, newspapers, maps, manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, videotapes, sound recordings, music scores, and many more.

Primary sources may be in their original format or may have been reproduced at a later date in a different format, such as a book, microfilm collection, video, or on the Internet. 

Search Strategies

Primary sources in all formats, including many electronic sources, can be found by searching Library Search. The Library's primary source databases allow you to search across many different sources to find those relevant for your research.

Articles published in newspapers and magazines at the time of a particular event are primary sources. Several databases allow you to search for articles in older newspapers, magazines, and journals. Coverage for a few titles goes back to the 17th century; for many, coverage goes back to the 19th century.

For advice on finding and evaluating primary sources on the internet, see Using Primary Sources on the Web from the Reference and User Services Association, a division of the American Library Association.

Primary Source Databases

The Library owns many primary source materials online. Use Library Search when you know the title of a specific resource and want to know if it's available in the Library's collections. You can also visit the Claremont Colleges Digital Library and Special Collections online.

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