Primary vs. Secondary

Primary sources are first-hand observations, analyses, or accounts contemporary with an event or era.

They document events, people, or viewpoints of the time.

Secondary sources interpret, analyze, or restate the same events or materials in order to explain them.


Identify Primary Sources

Look at the bibliography of your secondary source.

  • Look for sources that match the definition or types of primary sources noted above.
  • Some bibliographies, usually in books, designate a "Primary Sources" section in the bibliography.

Primary Source Types

newspapers/magazine clippings from the time period

letters and diaries

autobiographies and memoirs


audio or video recordings
government publications
oral histories



Get the Sources

Since most primary sources are not digitized, you will need to locate them.

The fastest method is to search Worldcat:

  • Click the Books tab on the Library Home page, and then click Search Books Worldwide.
  • Search the title of the item.
  • If we own the item, there will be a link Held by Yeshiva University Libraries which will lead you to the call number and location.
  • If we don't own the item but it is "Held by other libraries worldwide," click the title and then Request through Interlibrary Loan.
  • The item's information will auto-populate in the form. Simply enter your contact information, "accept" copyright restrictions, and click submit.