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Research Guides

Archival Research

Digital, Print, & Microfilm

Published primary sources in print, on microfilm, and online (subscription databases or open web) are readily available and extremely helpful. 

Not only can you use them to access sources without having to visit the library that holds the original materials, but published editions may be annotated as well, offering not just the documents themselves, but scholarship that puts them in context.

The Autobiography of Mark Twain (and accompanying Papers Project), Students for a Democratic Society Papers, Diary of George Templeton Strong, The New-York Historical Society Quarterly (1917-1980) and Radical Feminism:  A Documentary Reader are just a few examples of the formats of published primary sources that exist. 

Archival materials published in books and on microfilm can usually be found by searching local library catalogs and/or WorldCat.  These books and microfilmed sources are frequently available for interlibrary loan.  So, if you find that an archival collection you would like to use has been microfilmed or published in book form, submit an ILL request and the GC Library will borrow the item for you if we don't already have it in our collection.  

Also look for digitized archival materials and other primary sources in subscription databases and on open library websites.  In many cases, the digitized collections found in subscription databases were produced from microfilm made of the collection. 

Nowadays libraries may skip the step of microfilming collections and go straight to digitizing them instead.  These digitized materials may be accessible directly through collection finding aids and/or via a digital portal on the library's website.  

When you are onsite at the library that holds an archival collection that has been printed, photocopied, microfilmed, or digitized, you may be required to use the surrogate format rather than the original materials.  The collection finding aid will likely note this restriction. 

Print, microfilm, and digital -- the typical surrogate formats -- have expanded the reach of primary sources immeasurably and have been tremendously valuable to scholars near and far.  However, there is no substitute for consulting primary sources in their original format in the repositories where they are held.  So, always seize the opportunity to access original materials when you can. 

Finding Published Primary Sources in Library Catalogs

To find published primary sources in print, on microform, or online, use the Advanced Search option in WorldCat or other library catalogs, and select the format "Archival Material." Or try adding the word "sources" as an additional subject heading or adding keywords such as archives, correspondence, diaries, interviews, narratives, or memoirs to your search. Archival materials published in books or on microfilm are often available to borrow via Interlibrary Loan. To find digitized materials, look for search options that limit results to online content.

Digitized Texts

See the Digitized Texts page in our Beyond Wikipedia research guide for links to additional sources of books, newspapers, and journals online.