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Primary Sources: Search Tools

This is a research guide to finding primary sources that are accessible through the MSU Duane G. Meyer Library or through the open web.

Discover@MSU Search Box

Searching MSU's online catalog

Discover@MSU is the name of the online catalog for MSU Libraries.

Use the online catalog to find books, ebooks, media, articles, and more using the Discover@MSU link found on the libraries' home page.

The tabs at the top of this guide direct you to types of primary sources such as oral histories, newspapers, maps, and government data.  Many primary source documents have been digitized and collected into databases, some of which you'll find using these tabs.

To find primary sources use keywords, sometimes called subject words or descriptors. Begin your research by thinking of keywords to best describe your research topic. Do preliminary searches in Discover@MSU  or the databases listed in this guide and read the abstracts of the records found, paying close attention to any listed "descriptors" or "subjects" to learn what keywords scholars have used when writing on your topic. 

If MSU Meyer Library doesn't own a book or journal article that you need, just click on the linked phrase under the online catalog search boxes that says "Interlibrary Loan Request and Article Retrieval" and follow the instructions.

For assistance at any time in finding primary sources contact the authors of this guide, archivist Anne Baker or librarian Grace Jackson-Brown, or click on the "Ask a Librarian" link. 



Online Guides to Archival Collections

Many archival institutions are digitizing their collections and making historic documents freely available online. Others are putting guides to the physical collections online, and researchers can contact the archives to learn about accessing the material. There is no one location to search for archival materials, but these sites can help begin your research.


ArchiveGrid describes millions of archival records from libraries, museums, historical societies, and archives. Most of the materials are in the United States, but other countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia, are represented


WorldCat is the world's largest bibliographic database, containing records from over 17,000 libraries around the world. This includes books and other publications, digital records, and primary sources. 

Digital Public Library of America (DPLA)

The DPLA is a discovery tool for public domain and openly licensed content held by the United States' archives, libraries, museums, and other cultural heritage institutions.



Using Search Engines

Search engines, such as Google and Google Books, can lead you to primary sources to aid in your research. A Google search can be limited by using quotation marks:

  • "Laura Ingalls Wilder"

You can further limit your search by adding primary document terms like archives, primary sources, correspondence, or interviews.

  • "Laura Ingalls Wilder" correspondence

If you want to narrow down your search by type of organization, use Google Advanced Search. You can, for example, search for educational institutions by limiting the search to .edu sites. Not all primary sources are at universities, but it can be a good place to start.

Another potentially useful source is Google Books. Books are generally not primary sources, but this site might lead you to periodicals, newsletters, or reports that are contemporary to your research topic.