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Introduction to Special Collections

What is Special Collections?

Special Collections is a department within the University of Delaware Library that collects, preserves and makes accessible rare and unique materials such as:

    • Rare Books - are valuable, significant and scarce.

    • Artists' Books - works of art in the form of a book.

    • Fine Press Books - relatively small, high quality, private publishing companies.

    • Manuscripts - usually unpublished, primary source material that document the activities of an individual or family. 

    • Archives - usually unpublished, primary source material that document the activities of a business or organization.

Primary versus Secondary Source

Primary Source - material that contains firsthand accounts of events and that was created contemporaneous to those events or later recalled by an eyewitness.

A few examples of primary source materials:

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("manu"= hand, "script"=written)


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Graphic Materials
(e.g. photographs, drawings, etc.)

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Audio/Visual Materials
(e.g. film, audio recordings, etc.)

Secondary Source - 1. A work that is not based on direct observation of or evidence directly associated with the subject, but instead relies on sources of information. – 2. A work commenting on another work (primary sources), such as reviews, criticism, and commentaries.

A few examples of Secondary Source materials:

  • Journal/magazine articles
  • Textbooks
  • Books that contain histories, criticisms or commentaries

NOTE: The definition of these terms are from the Online Glossary of Archival Terms, at The Society of American Archivists website.

Can a book be a primary source?

Yes, a book can be a primary source.

Determining whether a source is a primary source often depends on the questions asked of it by the researcher.

For example...

A history text from the 1950s about the rise of Catholicism in America is usually considered a secondary source. However, a researcher investigating prevailing attitudes about religion in the 1950s may consider this work a primary source.

Primary and Secondary Sources Tutorial

After using this tutorial you will be able to distinguish between primary and secondary sources and will be able to use them appropriately in your research.

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