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​Finding Primary Sources at the State Library of Pennsylvania

The State Library holds many primary as well as secondary sources to support research.  Discover them using a number of search tools available on our website.

The most important question to ask when beginning research is what type of source is needed: primary or secondary.

  • A primary source is an original writing, document, report, eyewitness account or object prepared by the participants in an historical event.  It is a first-hand account. 
  • A secondary source is a document written about a primary source that reports, discusses or interprets the information it contains.
For research at the State Library, the best place to begin a search for books, periodicals and newspapers is the State Library’s online catalog.

The Digital Collections of the State Library provide many original primary source documents from Benjamin Franklin, Pennsylvania state documents collections, historic Pennsylvania newspapers; sources about President Abraham Lincoln, Pennsylvania coal mining, Pennsylvania’s native Americans, Civil War regimental histories, World War I, and more. 

Finally, don’t forget to check out the State Library of Pennsylvania’s rich newspaper resources.  The State Library has the largest collection of Pennsylvania newspapers with over 100,000 reels of microfilm; many of which can be sent to another library through interlibrary loan.  In addition, for researchers onsite at the Library, there are numerous online newspaper databases available such as:

  • Early American Newspapers, 1690-1875
  • Historical New York Times, 1851-2011
  • ProQuest databases for the Historical Philadelphia Tribune, Pittsburgh Courier, and Wall Street Journal. 

Another place to look for secondary sources is POWER ​Library.    Power Library also has an extensive photo collection from the Associated Press.  AP Images is a great place to locate primary source photos. 

Outside the State Library, resources to check include Internet Archive, the Digital Public Library of America, and the Black Freedom Struggle in the United States.  As more institutions digitize collections, repositories such as these give access to fascinating collections of both primary and secondary sources for research.