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NMSU Digital Collections

Digital Collections in Context

When starting a research project you must first select a topic, research the topic, and lastly, find resources that can be used to support your research and your project. It is important to remember that there are two types of sources: primary and secondary. Digital collections are perfect for finding and using sources, especially primary sources. There are many ways digital collections can be used for research and there are many digital collections across the web to choose from and to use in your research. They are available 24/7 and many are open access. See the Primary Sources tab for a lot of ideas, inspiration, and great resources.

What are primary sources?

Primary sources are first-hand accounts and raw information and are excellent ways to get direct access to information. Below are some examples of primary sources and links to our collection.

For example, when researching a historical event, you can't interview someone from the Civil War era but through primary sources of newspapers, correspondence, and diaries you can extract information to support your research topic.

What are secondary sources? 

Secondary sources are the interpretation, or the synthesis, of primary sources and present themselves through journal articles, academic books, and reviews. Secondary sources are useful for gathering background information on the topic that you are interested in pursuing and researching. 

The following can be considered secondary sources:

  • review of a movie, book, art exhibit
  • encyclopedias and dictionaries
  • political commentary
  • newspaper editorials, opinion writing
How to tell if a source is primary or secondary?

To determine if something can be used as a primary or secondary source in your research, there are some simple questions you can ask yourself:

  • Does this source come from someone directly involved in the events I’m studying (primary) or from another researcher (secondary)?
  • Am I interested in analyzing the source itself (primary) or only using it for background information (secondary)?
  • Does the source provide original information (primary) or does it comment upon information from other sources (secondary)?
Collections of Primary Sources for use in research

We encourage you to use the NMSU Library's Digital Collections as your first stop for primary sources. We also know that you may need to go farther afield. Here are some excellent additional resources for digital primary sources.



Newspapers and Advertisements


Science, Engineering, and Agriculture


Arts and Architecture


Social Sciences


Using primary sources can be a rewarding and enriching addition to your academic or personal work. It is important to pay homage and credit to the original creators of the work you are utilizing by citing your sources. Some excellent resources include:


It is also important to understand copyright and the limits of re-use of material. Some excellent overviews and how-to's are here: 

Data visualizations open digital collections to active exploration and discovery but can also provide tools for content analysis and communication. Visualizations can inspire users to explore these rich new resources in greater detail while appealing to human optical capabilities. As a researcher, instructor or student, these tools can create interactive methods to learn from collections, leverage voices often lost in the archive, and foster a better understanding of the context of a collection.

An example from the Clyde W. Tombaugh collection is below and you can find more examples and recommendations for creating your own visualizations on our Data Visualizations page.