Using Library Catalogs to Find Primary Sources

Search library catalogs by author
Use the CSUMB Library Catalog, the CSU Union Catalog, and WorldCat to identify books and other materials. Look up relevant persons, organizations, and agencies as authors. Materials that were written or produced by them either at the time of the event or later will, in most cases, be primary sources. Use the link below for a quick list of books and videos in the CSUMB Library on:

primary sources in history

Search library catalogs by subject headings
In order to use library catalogs to find primary sources on a subject, you must first identify the appropriate Library of Congress Subject Headings. To determine the appropriate subject headings associated with your topic you can:

  • Consult the printed list of Library of Congress Subject Headings (five red volumes located at the Reference Desk).
  • Look up a book that you already know about in a library catalog, and then do a subject search based on the subject headings listed.
  • Ask a librarian

Once you have identified appropriate Library of Congress Subject Headings, you can pair those headings with specific subheadings that identify materials as primary sources. Some of the subheadings are:

  • correspondence
  • diaries
  • early works to 1800
  • interviews
  • personal narratives
  • sources

You can combine any of the subheadings listed above with a Library of Congress Subject Heading to specifically search for primary source material. For example:

  • california history to 1846 sources
  • immigrants united states correspondence
  • poets american 20th century interviews
  • political science early works to 1800
  • women authors american 20th century diaries
  • world war 1939-1945 personal narratives

You may also search the CSUMB Library Catalog for primary sources based on keywords that describe your topic:

Enter one or more unique keywords:
Do not use Boolean operators (and, or, not) or common words like the, an, a,
the question mark ? to truncate search terms.


Go to special collections of primary source material (at local libraries or online)
Local historical collections and archives provide access to special collections of manuscripts, papers, organizational records or other unpublished materials. In general, access to these types of materials is limited to on-site use only. Before you visit, call ahead to find out about access policies and procedures.

The CSUMB Library's list of history sites includes links to several online collections of primary source material.