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History 100: A Guide to Research: Finding Secondary Sources

What's a Secondary Source?

A secondary source is something created by someone who is removed from the actual event. Often, the secondary source creator will refer to primary sources to create their secondary source. While a primary source would be created by the person witnessing or involved in the event, a secondary source is typically created using primary sources or other secondary research. People who create secondary sources that you would use in your papers and presentations are generally considered experts in their field. 

Types of secondary sources (note that all of these could be primary sources, or include primary sources, depending on how they're used!):

  • Books
    • Non-fiction
    • Provides context for your topic
    • Sometimes peer-reviewed (if published through academic publisher)
  • Journal articles
    • Usually peer-reviewed
    • Shorter, more concise and written on a specific topic or theme
  • News articles
  • Textbooks​​​​​​​

Tips & Tricks for NOBLE, ComCat, & WorldCat

**Give yourself enough time**

NOBLE books: 3-5 business days
ComCat books: 4-7 business days
WorldCat books: up to several weeks
Articles: 1-3 weeks (maybe sooner)


  • Always start with what is at PA when searching for your topic.
  • If you come up empty, search the NOBLE network and then ComCat.
  • Use WorldCat if you have a specific title in mind you need
  • Place holds on more than one relevant title. Although a book may sound perfect, you cannot accurately judge a book by its title.
  • Be sure the books you request are age appropriate—a juvenile/children’s book will not help you with your paper.
  • ComCat, look for items with multiple copies available and be sure it is not an e-book.
    • Leave the “Note” field blank
  • When searching WorldCat, look at the list of libraries who own the book you're after. You're more likely to receive it if it (and more quickly) if it is in MA or New England states.

**What you need to make a request**

NOBLE books: Your ID number (back of your ID card) and your 4-digit PIN
ComCat books: Your ID number (back of your ID card) and your last name
WorldCat books & articles: Email Ms. Goss ( with WorldCat link and/or complete citation.

Stop by the Library Welcome Desk or send an email to if you have any questions or get stuck.

Secondary Sources in the Library

Databases are used to search a lot of different journals, books, newspapers, etc. all at once!

Use them to find an article that talks about your topic.

Choose one of the databases below and put your topic into the search box. 

Print Resources (you can find these in the library)

Visit the Welcome Desk to take a look at the books on Reserve! You can check these books out and use them in the library for up to 2 hours. To find Reserves books and more, search the catalog below using keywords that relate to your topic. Try a very short phrase or a single word.

   Oliver Wendell Holmes Library Catalog


Secondary Sources Online