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Introduction to Primary Source Research

Basic information on doing research using primary sources

Tips on using library catalogs

A search of an online catalog of a specific repository or a shared catalog is an excellent starting point for any research project.

Catalog records provide the basic information you need (formats, subjects, date range, and quantity) to select relevant sources.

Catalog records can provide additional search terms. The subject headings and note fields will provide both broader and narrower terms for your consideration.

UC Berkeley LIbrary Catalog - UC Library Search

Most catalog records for archival materials are at the collection level. UC Library Search also includes item-level records for single-item collections, photographs and UC Berkeley publications.

Start by asking the question: What is the record describing — a single item or a group of items?

If a group of items, these parts of the catalog record will provide useful information:

The biographical note provides a short statement about the creator of the collection.

The format note specifies the size of the collection.

The description note will tell you what the collection is about and what types of materials are included.


Screen capture of catalog record showing description and summary notes.


For smaller collections, the description note can help you determine which boxes you need to consult.


Screen capture of description note in library catalog showing the organization of a collecction.


The locations section will tell you where the collection is stored to help plan your visit.


   Screenshot showing location information from catalog


For specifics about searching UC Library Search and other UC Berkeley search tools, check out the Finding Primary Sources Guide.


ArchiveGrid contains over four million descriptions of archival material held by thousands of libraries, museums, historical societies, and archives predominantly in the United States. It also provides contact information for the institutions where these collections are kept.

You can search by location or topic.


Image of the home page for ArchiveGrid showing map and search box.


You can view your results as a list or have them sorted by collection, library, person and subject.


Screenshot showing results list for sample search in ArchiveGrid.


Screenshot showing filtering and sorting options for sample search in ArchiveGrid.