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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Find Primary Source Materials in Special Collections, Archives, and Digital Libraries

This guide for advanced researchers focuses on finding special collections, archives, and digital libraries resources on particular individuals or topics.

Digital Public Library of America

The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) provides freely available resources from America’s libraries, archives, and museums. You can find many primary sources here from different time periods and on different subjects. Go to their Primary Source Sets to either search or browse sources by topic.

See DPLA's help page for more information on how to search and browse the collection.

DPLA's Primary Source Sets are designed to help students develop critical thinking skills by exploring topics in history, literature, and culture through primary sources. Drawing online materials from libraries, archives, and museums across the United States, the sets use letters, photographs, posters, oral histories, video clips, sheet music, and more. Each set includes a topic overview, ten to fifteen primary sources, links to related resources, and a teaching guide.


Europeana is a European digital library which gives access to online collections of many Europeans institutions (archives, libraries, museums). You can search the catalog for newspapers by title or by period.


HathiTrust is an online collection of books published before 1923. Many of these can be viewed online in their entirety, and others can be searched for keywords.

Internet Archive

The Wayback Machine has archived billions web pages from 1996 to the present and lets you view old versions of websites, even those that no longer exist. The Wayback Machine is part of the Internet Archive, which is a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more.

Library of Congress

The Library of Congress has over 300 digital collections that include books, maps, manuscripts, photos, records, newspapers, drawings, and many other rich materials. 

Smithsonian Open Access

Smithsonian Open Access is a resources that provides access to almost 3 million digital items from their collection from 19 different libraries. Search for and learn about different paintings, objects, animals, statues, and many more rich items that they have. 


World Digital Library

Provided by the Library of Congress, the World Digital Library works with libraries, archives, museums, educational institutions, and international organizations from around the world to have primary sources from all countries and cultures.