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Primary Source Guide for History Students: What is a Primary Resource?

Created to primarily help OWU history students find, evaluate, and use primary source materials located in the OWU Libraries and beyond.

Primary Sources

A large part of identifying what a primary source is depends on your topic. The video below, produced by the UCSD Libraries, compares primary and secondary sources, provides definitions and gives examples of both using the topic of the JFK Assassination. 

Library Lingo



A brief summary of a book or article


Annotated Bibliography

List of cited sources with a short description or evaluation of each resource.



 A short description or evaluation of a document.



A repository of documents and other materials of public or historical value.


Bibliographic record*

A bibliographic record refers to all the information necessary to identify one item. This information includes title, author, call number, publisher, and date of publication. (See citation.)



A list of sources of information (articles, books, and other materials) on a specific topic. Bibliographies can be found at an end of a book or article to indicate the items used to create the item or to refer researchers to recommended further reading. Bibliographies can also be independent works that are annotated.


Boolean operators (terms)*

The words "and", "or", "not" used in keyword searching to broaden, narrow, or limit a search.


Bound periodical*

Several issues of a periodical (magazine or journal) are often bound together as a single book for storage. Bound periodicals usually contain a full volume, or one year's worth of issues, of the title. Most of the Libraries bound periodicals are located in the Lower Level of Beeghly Library.


Call number*

An identification code assigned to a library item (book, video or audio recording, manuscript, periodical, musical score, etc.) that distinguishes one item from another and indicates its location in the library. Call numbers are arranged by subject, except in Government Documents Collections which may be arranged according to SuDocs classification. SuDocs is based on issuing on government agency. In Beeghly Library and most academic libraries, the call numbers follow the Library of Congress Classification System, unlike most high school and public libraries which use Dewey Decimal.



A library catalog is an organized collection of all the materials (books, videos, journal subscriptions, films, audio recordings, etc.) held by that library. The catalog organizes information about each item in such a way so that we have several options for finding materials – you can search by title, author, call number, keyword, subject, etc. The OWU Libraries’ catalog is CONSORT, which we share with three other schools, Denison, Kenyon, and Wooster.



Basic information about a work or part of work (book, article, audio recording, etc.), written in a specific style, containing specific elements, that allows the reader to identify and locate the work listed. 

Basic required elements of citations include author, title, and publication information.

          A citation for a book: 
          Author, title, place of publication, name of publisher, date.

          Example: McPhee, John. Coming into the Country. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977.


          A citation for a journal article:
          Author (if any), article title, journal title, volume and issue number (if any), date, page number(s).

          Example: Hawke, E. L. "Rainfall in a Cloudburst." Nature Feb. 2, 1952: 204.


Citation style*

A standardized system for citing materials used when writing books or papers. Citation styles are often created by professional organizations such the Modern Language Association (MLA) or publishers such as the University of Chicago Press (Chicago Manual of Style). For more information on citation styles and how to cite, click the link.



The act of indicating the source of information.  Authors cite their sources for two important reasons: 1. To give credit to the originator of an idea or research they wish to discuss, and 2. to allow readers to locate the source of the information and read it in context.



The combined library catalog of Denison University, Kenyon University, Ohio Wesleyan University, and Wooster College. Best for searching for books, journals and media. It does not search journal articles or the full text of books.



An organized collection of information. Commonly, the term "databases" refers to electronic databases. Databases consist of records, which in turn consist of fields. A popular example is an address book. Each record consists of a record for one person. Each record contains fields for name, street, city, state and zip code. In libraries, databases are used for catalogs and indexes. Each record represents a single item or document, and specific fields hold information about that items like author name, title, and publishing information. Databases are best for searching for journal/newspaper articles, book reviews, book chapters and more.



Term used for an oversized book. Folio books at the OWU Libraries are placed at the ends of the regular stacks on shelves labeled “folio.” Our folio books also start the call number with a lower case f.



The materials owned by a library.



An alphabetical list subjects, authors or titles used in a book or set of volumes with corresponding page numbers. Can also be a separate work that indicates information located in other sources.


Interlibrary Loan (ILL)*

Interlibrary loan is a service provided by libraries to give patrons access to materials beyond the scope of their own holdings. Visit our Interlibrary Loan page, to place a request online or view your electronically delivered items.



ILLiad is the name of OWU Libraries’ interlibrary loan service.



Limits are search options that allow a searcher to limit or narrow their results. Popular examples of limits include: Date, format, full test, location, and language.



A professional or academic periodical usually issued monthly or quarterly which contains scholarly articles, reports, research, and/or papers. Use the Journal link  on the OWU Libraries home page to search or browse for journal titles. (need to change link on home page for this to be accurate)



Keywords are significant words in the title, summary, or text of a record for an item in an online catalog or database. Most online catalogs and bibliographic databases include an option that allows the user to type words in the search box that describe the research topic (in any order) and retrieve records containing the search terms** Searching with keywords can help lead you to subject headings.


Microform, microfilm*

A means of preserving printed documents, especially periodicals. Printed documents are photographed and the images are reduced and printed on a transparent film, which can then be read by a microform machine that passes light through the image and enlarges it on a screen. This allows materials that might otherwise become brittle or easily damaged to be maintained and stored easily and inexpensively for long periods of time.



A one volume, relatively short book written on a single topic, typically by an expert in the field.



A publication that appears on a continuous and predictable schedule. Examples include newspapers (daily or weekly), magazines, and journals.


Peer reviewed*

Means that a work has been evaluated by several researchers or subject specialist in the academic community prior to accepting it for publication.



The use of another person's words, ideas, or research without crediting the source. Passing off another person's work as one's own.


Primary sources*

Are original works. These sources represent original thinking, report on discoveries or events, or share new information. Usually these represent the first formal appearance of original research. Primary sources include statistical data, manuscripts, surveys, speeches, biographies/autobiographies, diaries, oral histories, interviews, works or art and literature, research reports, government documents, computer programs, original documents( birth certificates, trial transcripts...) etc.



A selection of specific books, articles or other material set aside by professors for use by students in particular classes. Reserves can be found either in print or electronic format (Eres) at the OWU Libraries. Check out our Reserves page for more information about locating and access reserves.  


Secondary sources*

Are usually studies by other researchers. They describe, analyze, and/or evaluate information found in primary sources. By repackaging information, secondary sources make information more accessible. A few examples of secondary sources are books, journal and magazine articles, encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks, periodical indexes, etc.



"Stacks" is a colloquial term used to refer to the areas of the library where circulating materials are shelved.


Subject headings*

A standardized word or phrase describing a topic or concept. Items are assigned subject headings based on what the item is about. Assigning subject headings help organized like items. Searching by a subject heading in a catalog or database will bring back all results assigned that subject heading in much the same way a hashtag keeps all common threads together.



Summon is the Libraries' version of Google. It allows users to search almost everything the OWU Libraries own or have access to, all at once, in one simple search. Unlike Google, it allows you to better control your search and limit to things like scholarly peer-review resources, date, etc. Great place to start your search but not recommended for advanced/specialized searching.


Looking for other terms? Visit...

ODLIS - Online Dictionary of Library Science for other library terms and definitions. 


*Denotes a definition taken or adapted from the Elmer E. Rasmuson & BioSciences Libraries’ Library Lingo page with their permission. Many thanks!


**Denotes definition taken or adapted from ODLIS.