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Syracuse University Libraries

Special Collections Research Strategies: Important Terms

The purpose of this guide is to assist students, faculty, and the general public in conducting research at the Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) at Syracuse University Library.

Primary Sources vs. Secondary Sources

A primary source is a document, speech, or other type of evidence written, created or otherwise produced during the time under study. Examples include autobiographies, diaries, e-mail, interviews, letters, minutes, news film footage, official records, and photographs.

A secondary source provides interpretation and analysis of primary sources. Secondary sources are one step removed from the original event. Examples include encyclopedias, databases, literary criticism, magazine or newspaper articles, and textbooks.

The majority of the items in SCRC are considered primary sources, although secondary sources contribute to our collection as well.

Primary Sources at SCRC

Artifacts - An artifact is a handmade object or the remains of one characteristic of an earlier time or cultural stage.

Manuscripts - The dictionary definition of a manuscript is a handwritten document. "Manuscripts" can also refer to unpublished documents, prepublication drafts of published works, and collections of personal papers or corporate records. Within this broader definition, typescripts and inscriptions can also be considered manuscripts. Some manuscripts also include illustrations. The manuscript collections housed at SCRC include musical scores, maps, clay tablets, handwritten letters, telegrams, authors' drafts for books and articles, Image of illustrations from one of SCRC's Books of Hours.and more.

Memorabilia - Memorabilia refers to any non-manuscript item that has historical/emotional value which can be placed in an archival collection (such as coins, ticket stubs, jewelry, pottery, etc.).

Scrapbooks - A scrapbook is a book in which various items (such as newspaper clippings or pictures) are collected.

Transcripts - A transcript is a written, printed, or typed copy of dictated or recorded material.

Secondary Sources at SCRC

Bound Periodicals - Bound periodicals are issues of journals or magazines arranged together between two hardcovers.

Image of cover of a pulp fiction novel.

Rare Books - There are many reasons a book may be rare. A rare book may be a book, or an edition of a book, of which very few copies still exist. A book can also be called rare when it is part of an important edition or has special physical characteristics, such as  binding, provenance, inscription, or association with important previous owners.


Serials - A serial is a publication that is issued in parts indefinitely over time. Serials include periodicals, almanacs, annual reports, etc.