Here's a great definition of primary sources from the American Library Association
--Using Primary Sources on the Web, rev. 2008.
Not sure how to work with primary sources? Here are some great tips:
Start with the basic questions:
· What? – What type of material is it? Document, photograph, government publication…
· Who? – Who created the material? Where did it come from? Can its origin be determined?
· When? – Where does the item fit into the chronology of the period being studied? How close to the person or event is the material?
· Why? – For whom and to what purpose was the material created? What biases may inherently or intentionally exist in it?
Interpret your findings—given the facts about the items, interrogate it:
Interrogate primary sources just as critically as secondary sources or the opinions of other scholars and students.
For example, reading a photographic image as text:
A finding aid describes the arrangement and contents of a manuscript collection. While many of the Special Collections find aids are available online, not all of them are. In addition to reference works and research guides, finding aids are available in print format in the Special Collections Reading room.
Manuscript collections can vary in size from one folder or box of correspondence to large collections consisting of hundreds of boxes containing letters, unpublished writings, official documents, video, audio, and photographic materials, and personal collections of books and other published materials. Knowing what sorts of things are in a collection and where to find them is essential to successful research.
Lists on the Special Collections website describe collections with complete finding aids, or descriptions, online.You can search the available finding aids and descriptions alphabetically or by subject.