Conceptualize, Discover, Describe, Interpret, Use

Primary sources are materials in various formats that serve as original evidence documenting a time period, an event, a work, people, or ideas. In these sessions students will learn how to conceptualize, discover, describe, interpret, and use primary source material for a variety of purposes.

Some questions students will learn to answer:

  • What are the differences between primary and secondary sources?
  • Can I use sources from the internet?
  • How do I accurately identify and describe this document?
  • What information can I get from this source?
  • How do I present this information in my paper?

Select a module for more information:

Modules are designed to fit into a 50 minute instruction period. Modules are adaptable for longer class periods or may be combined with other modules if time permits. The Conceptualize and Discover modules stress foundational skills while the Describe, Interpret, and Use modules emphasize higher level practice and integration. When possible module exercises may be adapted to course content.


  • Guidelines for Primary Source Literacy. ACRL RBMS-SAA Joint Task Force, 2018.
  • Past or Portal: Enhancing undergraduate learning through special collections and archives. Mitchell, Seiden, and Taraba, eds. ACRL, 2012.
  • Using Primary Sources: Hands on instruction exercises. Bahde, Smedberg, Taormina, eds. Libraries Unlimited, 2014.