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Primary Sources | Research by Subject | Library & Information Access | San Diego State University

Primary Sources

Common Terms in Special Collections

During your visit to Special Collections and University Archives, you may encounter some unfamiliar terms. Below are some definitions that should help you familiarize yourself with the research process.

Finding Aid: A finding aid is a detailed description of the contents of a collection of records. It is a tool created by archivists to help the researcher identify collections and individual items of interest. Finding aids establish biographical or historical context, describe the scope and contents of the collection, detail arrangement, and provide a list of boxes and/or folders that aid in the retrieval of materials. 

Finding Aid Database (the FAD): The Finding Aid Database details the contents of all processed collections found in Special Collections and University Archives. Users can browse by collection title or subject, or search by keyword.

Reading Room: Our main research area - a quiet study space where Special Collections materials are requested and used. Researchers must register and review our User Guidelines when requesting materials for the first time.

Registration: All patrons that wish to use materials in Special Collections must fill out a brief registration form and provide a photo ID.

Primary sources: Primary sources are materials that provide first-hand documentation or knowledge, usually of people, places, events or time periods. Primary sources enable the researcher to trace a research subject to its origin, potentially supporting new interpretations or revealing previously undocumented knowledge of that subject. Just a few examples of primary sources include diaries, oral histories, fossils, DNA, correspondence, speeches, interviews, court cases, or scientific studies. Secondary sources build upon or extrapolate information derived from primary sources, and the distinction between the two can be quite fluid depending on one's area of study. In most contexts, however, a primary source is understood to be a point of origin, or a piece of raw data, for a research subject.

Bookeye: The Bookeye is the overhead scanner in the Special Collections Reading Room. Using a simple touch screen, users can choose from a variety of image options, including Color/Grayscale/Black and White and JPEG/TIF/PNF/PDF (searchable). Images may be saved to a USB drive or emailed directly to the user from the machine. Printing costs $.10/page and is available in the Reading Room. Permission at the front desk is required for all scans.

Manuscript: A handwritten and/or unpublished document. Examples include letters, diaries, commonplace books or notebooks, and ledgers. A manuscript collection is a collection of personal or family papers, mostly made up of unpublished documents.

Archives: An 'archive' refers to a collection of materials created or recieved by a person, family, or organization in the course of their affairs, and preserved because of enduring artifactual or intellectual value. The term 'archives' can also refer to the building or department where such collections are held, also known as a repository.

Processed/Unprocessed Collections: Processed collections have been organized and described by an archivist. Unprocessed collections are awaiting organization and description, and are not typically available for consultation. All processed collections are described in the Finding Aid Database (FAD).

Posted: 2014-02-11