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Primary Source Research Guide
- Introduction
- Getting Started
Definitions
- Primary and Secondary Sources
- Primary Source Samples
- About Archives
- Finding Aids
- Anatomy of a Finding Aid
Finding Primary Sources
> Resources
- Digital Collections
- Collections on Microfilm
Visiting Repositories
- Preparing for Your Visit
- What To Expect
- Links and Contact Information
Use and Reproduction
- Copyright
- Citing Sources

Finding Primary Sources: Resources

Before beginning your search for primary sources it is important to note that none of the following resources are comprehensive. Not all institutions have entries in every database, and not all materials are cataloged online. Therefore it is best to check multiple online and print resources. If you have trouble finding primary sources on your topic, that doesn't necessarily mean they don't exist! Talk to a reference librarian or archivist for further assistance in locating sources. They can also help you to refine or refocus your topic if necessary. See Visiting Repositories.

In the Five Colleges

To locate sources in the Five College area, the best place to start is this site you are now using:

Five College Archives and Manuscript Collections
A searchable database of finding aids for collections from each of the Five College repositories at Amherst, Hampshire, Mt. Holyoke, and Smith Colleges and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. This site allows for searching collections within one institution or across all five.
Home page     Search tips

Five College Library Catalog
Includes brief descriptions of archival and manuscript collections searchable by name, subject, or keyword. The catalog is divided into two parts: Four Colleges and UMASS that must be searched separately.
 
Note: there are more collections represented in the Library Catalog than in the finding aids database. That's because the Catalog includes many unprocessed collections which do not yet have complete finding aids. The catalog record will include a link to the corresponding finding aid if it's available online. If the finding aid is not online, you may contact or visit the repository to obtain a print copy.        Search tips

Basketball game, Smith College
"Ball about to be tossed up at centre." Illustration for 1903 edition of Basket Ball for Women. Photograph by Katherine E. McClellan. Smith College Archives.

Outside the Five College Area

National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC)
A cooperative catalog operated by the Library of Congress, available in print and online.

The 29 NUCMC printed volumes cover collections cataloged from 1959 to 1993. They include descriptions of thousands of collections from numerous repositories, indexed by subject, personal names, corporate names, and geographic names. Copies of the printed volumes are located in the reference libraries at Amherst, Mount Holyoke and Smith Colleges; and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. NUCMC online includes collections cataloged since 1986. Collections cataloged after 1993 are only published online.

WorldCat (available only on campus)
WorldCat (also known as OCLC FirstSearch) is a library catalog that provides access to materials in over 9,000 libraries, primarily in North America. Members of the Five Colleges can connect through their library's Web site (provided you are on campus). Contact a reference librarian for more information on how to connect to WorldCat. Archival material can be found in WorldCat using the "advanced search" option. After entering your search term, select "Archival Materials" in the "Limit type to" section. (Note: although WorldCat includes Five College collections, it's best to use the local Five College Catalog when searching for materials within the Five Colleges since it contains more information and provides links to online finding aids).

Web Sites and Repository Guides
Visit the Web sites of repositories to find lists of their holdings, as well as subject guides and other useful information to help you plan your research project. Published Repository Guides list (and sometimes index) all of the holdings within a particular repository. They can be very useful, but it is important to remember that printed guides are often outdated and may not represent the current holdings of the repository in question. Web sites are usually kept up-to-date and are searchable. For links to archival Web sites see Links and Contact Information.

Subject or Research Guides
Many repositories have guides that highlight relevant collections by topic. These can be a great help in narrowing your search. Some of these guides are available on their Web sites, some may only be available in print form within the repository. There are also published guides to some specific collections that are available in reference libraries.

There are many more resources available for locating primary sources including bibliographies, and historic newspaper and journal indexes. Some, not all, are available online. For more resource titles, see Locating Primary Sources (Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections). Ask a reference librarian or archivist for assistance in finding and using these resources.

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Project funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Last update: May 24, 2004