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Primary Sources: Primary Sources in UToledo Libraries

Finding first-hand accounts of events (either originals, reproductions, or reprints).

What is a Primary Source?

Primary sources are first-hand accounts, original manuscripts, or records or documents produced at the time of the event. Letters, photographs, speeches, interviews, government documents, historical records, personal papers, empirical studies, and statistical data are some examples of primary sources. These may be available in their original form, or they may be reproduced in another book, digital, or microform collection.  Sometimes students have difficulty in distinguishing between primary and secondary sources. Below are two explanations:

News Sources as Primary Sources

Historical Primary Resource Digital Subscriptions

A number of subscription databases with historical primary and secondary sources are listed at

Reproductions of Primary Sources in the Libraries

The Library has a variety of reproduced primary source documents in electronic, print, and microform formats. These can be found by searching the catalog. Some search strategies are below.

Searching for Primary Sources in the Library Catalog

To locate primary source materials that we own, particularly in monograph format, see the recommendations below for searching the UToledo Library Catalog.

By Title

The catalog can locate specific primary source titles such as the New York Times or The Diary of Anne Frank. Often, however, you do not have a specific title, but are looking for something by a particular person or on a particular topic.

By Author

An author search is an effective way to locate the letters, papers or diaries of individuals. To perform an author search, type in the person's last name, then first name and press enter. For example, if you search Jefferson, Thomas you will find 62 items, some of which are titled the "The letters of..." or "The papers of...". 

By Subject

You will often see subject headings toward the bottom of the the UToledo Library Catalog record, such as Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826 -- Manuscripts or Presidents -- United States -- Correspondence that can be searched for more primary sources related to the topic.

By Keyword

A good way to locate primary documents pertaining to events or places is to perform a keywords search. This allows you to combine topics with terms like narratives, diaries, correspondence, interviews, records, newspapers, sources, papers and manuscripts, which indicate primary sources. For example, the keyword search Holocaust and narratives, produces many titles that provide firsthand accounts, while Charleston and newspapers produces 7 newspapers published during the Colonial era. As with the author searches above, you may use the subject headings that appear on the screen to find similar documents.

Add terms like indexes, bibliography, and catalogs to your keyword searches to locate finding aids available. They are particularly important in using the microform collections. For example, the keyword search, British colonial records indexes, will identify A Guide to British Public Record Office, Colonial Office, Class 5 Files, an index to a 53 reel collection (Records of the British Colonial Office, Class 5).

Primary Sources in the Canaday Center

The Ward M. Canaday Center, located on the fifth floor of Carlson Library, is a repository of original primary source documents.

It contains:

• The University Archives, which record the history of the University of Toledo through files, photographs, clippings, and other documents produced here.

  • UToledo Digital Repository: contains a variety of online collections including university archives, manuscript collections, faculty and student research, specialized digital collections, U.S. patents assigned to the University of Toledo, yearbooks, college newspapers (Collegian), and other digital content of interest
  • Collection Inventories:  inventories of collections that are currently open for research

• Manuscript Collections, which are the records of other organizations and individuals entrusted to the Center, such as local businesses, non-profit organizations, and authors.
Rare books, including first editions and older books that document contemporary life

The Canaday Center's mission is to support the curriculum of the University of Toledo. The emphasis for collecting is placed on acquiring 20th century materials, mainly because of the availability of these materials. The Canaday Center's manuscript and rare book collections are cataloged in the UToledo Library Catalog.