If you’re researching a specific topic, you may find primary and secondary sources in a library, archive, special collection, or cultural institution. Primary sources might include historical materials such as papers, correspondence, photographs, audio recordings, institutional records.
How do you locate materials? And how should you arrange to view them?
Your subject librarian is happy to work with you to identify resources and help you understand what's available and how to arrange access. This is best done in advance of your trip.
Libraries abroad may be unlike the Pitt Libraries. They may not allow circulation of items and require reading of items in-house. Be prepared to have to request items a day or more in advance of using them. Libraries abroad may require a letter of recommendation or introduction from one of our subject specialists or one of your professors. Importantly, Internet/network access may be unreliable (or nonexistent)!
If you are planning to do research in a special collection or archive, it is important to prepare in advance. Here are some tips:
1. Try to identify, as much as you can, the exact items you wish to consult. Use footnotes, bibliographies, catalogs of manuscripts, and websites. It is always best to know in advance just what you need to see.
2. If there are proxies of these documents available (editions, facsimiles, microform, online digital copies, etc.), look at these in advance and make whatever notes you can. This will save time in the library, and you will have a better idea of what items you need to look at in person.
3. If the library has a website, go there and check the calendar to be sure the library is open when you plan to go.
4. What are the library's rules? Does it require letters of introduction from an advisor or a Pitt librarian? What tools are you allowed to bring into the reading room?
5. Contact the library well in advance to let them know you are coming, and what you intend to look at. You do not want to arrive to find that the book or manuscript you wish to consult is on exhibit in some far away city.
6. If you are reading old documents, be sure you have the skill to do so. A medieval manuscript looks little like a modern edition of the same, and even if you know Latin very well, you may not be able to decipher a medieval or early modern script. The same applies to foreign languages and handwritten manuscripts.
Adapted from a list courtesy of Brown University.