What is a primary source? Where can I get them?


Primary sources are materials in a variety of formats that serve as original evidence documenting a time period, an event, a work, people, or ideas. (American Library Association) 

One example would be a diary or journal written by someone who was present during the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. That person witnessed the event as it happened and if they wrote about it, it's a primary source. Other examples can include photographs, oral histories, autobiographies and creative works like art, plays, poetry, etc. 

A secondary source is anything written about an event that was not produced at the time the event happened. Examples include history textbooks, encyclopedia articles, biographies and articles that analyze historical events. 

Spotlight library resource: RitzDiscovery

If you need books, the best place to start is in the library's main search, RitzDiscovery, which searches all of the library's databases at the same time. 

To use it, go to the Ritz Library homepage and click on the Advanced Search link below the main search box: 


In the Advanced Search, type your subject in one box, the word "sources" in the next box, and change the filter marked "contains" to "Subject": 



Click on Search to the lower right. When your results list comes up, look for the filters to the left and click on "Resource Type" and then "Books":


The list will reconfigure to include only books, both print and electronic. 

Spotlight database: Opposing Viewpoints

This database provides articles from journals, magazines, newspapers and other sources on social issues topics. One of the sources that will be listed when you choose a subject or do a search for a topic will be primary sources. 

Once you access Opposing Viewpoints, look for the Browse Issues icon to the right -- it looks like a lightbulb: 


When you click on that icon, you'll get a list of topic pages. Click the topic link you're interested in and look for the link called "Primary Sources".

Note: Not every topic page will have primary sources. If you need help finding them for your subject, ask the librarians at the Reference Desk. 


Spotlight web source: Library of Congress -- Classroom Materials

The Library of Congress has a searchable website of primary sources in history. 


Video: ProQuest Research Companion: Primary & Secondary Sources

To learn more detail about the differences between primary and secondary sources, watch the short video below. 






  • Last Updated Sep 22, 2023
  • Views 16
  • Answered By Tom Trinchera

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