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A Research Guide: From the Secondary Source to the Primary Source

Web Sites

Although the web holds a vast amount of information, it isn't always the best place to begin to gather factual information about a topic. You must be careful to pay attention to who is posting the information. Who or what organization hosts the site? What is their expertise? You must evaluate not only the content of the site, but the person or organization behind it and decide whether or not the information is trustworthy. It is up to you to determine if the information you find on a web site is dependable and accurate.

The sites listed below have a substantial amount of information on any one topic. Outside of the Library of Congress, the National Archives and the Smithsonian, you should also look at the web pages of university libraries throughout the country. When you locate the library site at a university, look for the section on the Archives. Often the Archives or Special Collections have documents on exhibit, internal databases to consult or descriptive guides posted on their site.

Libraries and Museums:

Library of Congress

The Library of Congress posts ongoing exhibits of documents and materials from their collections related to specific events and people in American history. They also have an Education Department, which sponsors programs for teachers and providdes lesson plans for the classroom. Areas of the web site that may be useful for research: American Memory Project, Exhibits, and Using the Library.

Smithsonian Institution

The Smithsonian Institute is made up of sixteen museums and galleries, most of which have research collections. Their web site provides many access points into the Smithsonian collections. They have general information posted about each of the museums as well as virtual displays of artifacts from their collections. In addition, on the Smithsonian web site, features a number of databases, catalogs and indexes for locating research materials. One of these is the Art Inventories database (within the Libraries & Archives section), which contains listings of over 335,000 records of describing American paintings and sculptures executed before 1914. Areas of the web site that may be useful for research: Museums & Research, Education & Outreach, Libraries & Archives - Smithsonian Libraries -- Library Catalog (SIRIS).


National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC)

The NUCMC is a "cooperative catalog program offered by the Library of Congress. NUCMC catalogers create MARC (Machine Readable Cataloging) bibliographic records in RLIN (Research Libraries Information Network), a national-level database, describing collections held by participants, and establish pertinent name and subject authority headings. Descriptions and locations of the material are then available to researchers on RLIN throughout the United States and around the world."2

The NUCMC catalog is available online and is a good place to search for manuscript papers of individuals or families or the records of an organization. NUCMC searches records that are submitted by libraries throughout the United States and the world. NUCMC is similar to the Firstsearch database, whose records are supplied by OCLC libraries.

College and University Archives and Special Collections:

Most major universities have an Archives or Special Collections department, which is usually found, within the library. If you go to a university's library home page, you will find the Archives, Special Collections or Exhibits section listed there. Although it isn't possible in most cases to post entire manuscript collections up on the web, many university archives are posting finding aids and exhibits of documents online. At the University of Idaho's Special Collections web site (http://www.lib.uidaho.edu/special-collections/Other.Repositories.html/), you can search the web sites of 3900 Repositories of Primary Sources throughout the country and the world for historic photographs, manuscripts, archives, and rare books.

2 NUCMC website: http://www.loc.gov/coll/nucmc.html/

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