Skip to Main Content logo for Ventura College Library

THA V20 Costume Design: Primary vs. Secondary Sources

A research guide for costume design.

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

What’s the difference between a primary source and a secondary source? Has your teacher asked you to include a selection of both types of sources but you are to sure what the difference is? Generally speaking, primary sources are eyewitness accounts, documents, unedited videos/images or descriptions of an event that were made at the same time that an event occurred. Examples of primary sources include: diaries, photographs, newspaper articles written the day after something occurred, unedited photographs and videos, etc. On the other hand, secondary sources are things like textbooks, encyclopedias, books written by historians, etc. Need help finding your primary sources or determining if something is a secondary source, just ask a librarian for help! Peter Sezzi

Find Primary Sources in OneSearch

Here are a few search strategies for finding primary sources in OneSearch:

1. Try searching for sources that were published at the same time as the historical event or while the subject was alive.

For example if your topic is Rosa Parks:

  • In OneSearch conduct an Advanced Keyword Search for Rosa Parks
  • Limit your results with the Publication Date drop down menu (Specific Date) OR use the "Refine my results" feature to filter your results by Date Created (left window-pane)

You search results should reflect items published during Rosa Park's life, these could be primary sources written by Parks, or by people who knew her providing first hand accounts.

2. Use Key Words (found below) to search for common primary source materials. Combine these common key words with your research topic. 

For example: "Rosa Parks" and "diary"


  • personal narratives 
  • documents
  • speeches
  • memoirs 
  • diaries
  • interviews
  • oral history
  • letters
  • biography 
  • testimonies

Online Resources

These collections bring together millions of items ranging from manuscripts to photographs, from books to film. The collections are strongest in pre-1925 material due to copyright considerations.

Adapted: RUSA

Primary Source Library Databases

Library Chat