Primary Sources

Newspapers, Archival Documents, Personal Papers, Census Data

Searching for Primary Sources

How do I find the primary sources I need?

When you search for primary sources, you'll need special skills.

  • Context matters! Archival primary sources are usually arranged into collections, and these collections are important clues about why the material was made and what it means. Look for the collection description and try to find a biographical or historical note. 
  • Think about the time you're studying. Did people use different terms, or has the name of your topic changed over time? ("Wayne University" instead of "Wayne State University") You'll need to search using these terms.
  • Consider alternatives. If you're studying Dolores Huerta but you're not finding what you want, look to see if she's mentioned in collections about people she knew and worked with. You'll find a lot of information about Dolores in the UFW Office of the President: Cesar Chavez Records.
  • Think about the whole. You have to know where a document came from to understand what you are looking at. Even if you are searching a database where collection information may not be front-and-center, you need context to understand your search results.
  • Keep trying! Even professional researchers have plenty of dead ends. It may take a few tries to find a good lead!

Some sources may be at other libraries or archives. The vast majority of primary sources in the world are not available online and likely never will be, so keep in mind that you may need to contact repositories directly.

Databases with Primary Source Materials

Laptop computer with access to books

The WSU Libraries subscribes to databases with primary source materials from around the world. 

Note: You may be prompted to login using your Access ID and Password.

Searching outside of WSU

Universities and libraries all over the world have primary sources. Some of the tools below can help you find other repositories.

WSULS Special Collections

WSULS Special Collections serves as a repository for materials regarding the history and development of children's literature; African American literature and culture; Detroit and Michigan history, art and literature; the sciences, including medicine and nursing; Judaica; and historical Michigan law.

Most Special Collections materials do not circulate (leave the library). Users may consult materials in the Richard and Dr. Candace Beutell Gardner Special Collections and Rare Book Room. Because our material is housed offsite, please contact us with your request before visiting.

Gardner Special Collections and Rare Book Room, Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs

5401 Cass Ave
Detroit, MI 48202
(313) 577-6109

Walter P. Reuther Library and Archives

Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs

The Walter P. Reuther Library Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, located on the campus of Wayne State University in Detroit, contains millions of primary source documents related to the history of the labor movement, urban affairs, and the Wayne State University Archives. The building is named for UAW President and Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) President Walter Reuther.


Reading Room Hours:

Monday-Friday: 9:30:am-noon; 1-3:30pm
Saturday-Sunday: Closed

5401 Cass Avenue, Detroit, MI
Appointments: Reference Archivist