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Primary Sources: Search the Library Catalog

This guide aims to help you identify common types of primary sources in the University Libraries’ collections and those that are freely available on the Internet. It doesn't cover finding source material in other museums, libraries or other collections

Find Books in USC Libraries

Author Search

If you know the name of an individual or an organization search it as the author in the library catalog. Type in a personal name in inverted order (last name first followed by first name). Names of organizations are entered in the direct order of the name.

Edison Thomas     finds his published diary, letters, and film footage.
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People   finds files, reports, minutes, and periodicals.

Keyword Search

These terms can be assigned as subdivisions to subject headings:

anecdotes   documentary films   personal narratives
archives   documentary photography   pictorial works
biography   early works to 1800   portraits
caricatures and cartoons   interviews   public opinion
case studies   manuscripts   speeches
comic books, strips   notebooks   songs and music
correspondence   pamphlets   sources
description and travel   periodicals   statistics

Examples of some keyword searches:

(submarine or navy or naval) and (diaries or narratives or sources) and civil war
nurses and (correspondence or diaries or sources)

Subject searches on Types of Primary Sources

These terms are authorized subject headings for some formats of primary sources. The books may be about the type of primary source and/or include primary source materials.

Advertising (to find advertisements) Oral history
Autobiographies Sermons
Autobiography Slave narratives *
Letters Speeches
American letters Wills

* Consult the Library of Congress Subject Headings for references to Writings by other groups of people (examples: prisoners writings, mentally ill writings of the).

Consult a Bibliography or Guide

Have you tried all those strategies and still can’t find what you need? Take a step back and search for guides or bibliographies that could identify primary source materials. From the catalog record alone, you might not be able to tell if the guide or bibliography includes primary source material. You’ll need to look at the actual guide or bibliography.

Some examples include:
Harvard Guide to American History Reference Z1236 .F77 1974
The Female Experience in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century America: A Guide to the History of American Women Reference Z7961 .C64 1982
A Guide to the Manuscript Collection of the South Caroliniana LibraryReference and Mezzanine Z6621 .S697 also at South Caroliniana 016.091 So8g

Examples of keyword searches (be sure the catalog looks for the word bibliography in the subject by using an advanced keyword search)

etiquette and bibliography
working class and bibliography
travel and bibliography
"children's literature" and bibliography
"women physicians" and bibliography

Books from an Era

Perhaps your primary source material will be books published on a subject within a certain time period. You can limit your search by date of publication.

There are two ways to do this in the library catalog.

▪  Do a subject, author, call number or title search.  Once you have search results you can click on the Limit/Sort Search button and you will be able to enter a range of years.

▪  Select Advanced Keyword as your search and enter the range of years as part of your initial search.

The system does NOT include the years you enter.  For example, if you want to find materials published (or later reprints) from the 1870s you need to enter:



Subject Guide

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Reference Desk Thomas Cooper Library
Thomas Cooper Library
Subjects:Special Topics