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Contemporary Canadian Govt. & Politics: A Research Guide: Finding Primary Sources

Finding Primary Source Material in Libraries, Archives, and on the Internet:

Finding Primary Source Material in Libraries:
Most libraries will have some primary source materials, but each library's special collections vary depending on their subject focus, region, specified users, donations, and collection development strategies. The following can help you find libraries with a special collection on your topic:

Directory of Special Collections of Research Value in Canadian Libraries. Library and Archives Canada.

Subject Collections: A Guide to Special Book Collections and Subject Emphases as Reported by University, College, Public, and Special Libraries and Museums in the United States and Canada. 7th ed. New York: Bowker, 1993. 2466 p.

NOTE: Primary source materials in library special collections may not all be included in the online library catalogue. Ask a Reference Librarian to be sure.

Searching by Subject:

See Finding and Evaluating Substantive Information, for general instructions on searching library catalogues. Once you know the subject headings to use for your topic you can add the sub-headings that limit the materials found to primary sources.

Some commonly used sub-headings for primary sources:

-- sources
-- personal narratives
-- correspondence
-- diaries
-- quotations
-- oratory
-- platforms
-- interviews

Use after a subject heading, e.g.[subject] -- sources:

Chretien, Jean, 1934- -- quotations
canada -- politics and government -- sources
canada -- politics and government -- 1945 - -- sources

TIP: Since there can be any number of date ranges added between the sub-headings, search for keywords combined from the subject heading and sub-headings in the subject field to see all items, or browse the subject heading list.

NOTE: There are also some subject headings for primary source material:

Speeches, addresses, etc., Canadian
Public opinion polls
Campaign literature

To find these materials for a specific person, party, etc., do an advanced subject search where you can combine both headings in your search:
e.g. subject: Liberal party of Canada and subject: campaign literature


Searching by Author:

Enter the government body or political organization as the author to find materials produced by these bodies, e.g.:

Liberal Party of Canada
Canada. Ministry of State for Multiculturalism
Canada. Parliament. Senate. Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce

TIP: Government bodies are entered with their jurisdiction first. If you don't know the exact format, use keywords in the Author field to find these, then use the full heading for a more precise search.

Searching by Keyword:

If you don't know the subject headings to use for your topic, start with keywords, ie. any words you can think of to describe what you are looking for. Combine keywords for the topic, jurisdiction, author, or possible subject headings. To make this more precise, enter the keywords in the fields in which you know they will occur, if any. To make sure to get more, use truncation to get the root keyword and any possible endings (e.g. election* to get election, elections, electioneering, etc.)

e.g. Canada in the author field and debates (no field specified)
election* (no specified field) and speeches in the subject field.
You may need to rethink your searches depending on the results and try searching in several ways.


Note: The exact way to do a keyword search in specific fields, truncation, etc. will differ depending on the online catalogue system used and may not be possible in some. Check the catalogue´┐Żs online help files before attempting advanced keyword searches.

Finding Primary Source Material in Archives:
Archives are the major collectors of primary source materials. The largest in Canada is the National Archives of Canada, merged with the National Library of Canada to form Library and Archives Canada. The Archives contain most kinds of primary source materials, including records created by the federal government, photographs, art and caricatures, films, videos and sound recordings, maps, diaries, speeches, etc. To find information in the archival collection use: Collection Search and limit to "Archives Search" only.

TIP: See Using Archives: A Guide to Effective Research by Laura Schmidt, for a brief introduction to the difference between libraries and archives and what you can expect when researching in an archive.

Any organization, government body, political party, etc. can have its own archives. Use this site to find archives that have materials on your topic: By the Canadian Council of Archives.
This site provides access to the archival "network" site in each province and territory, which links to the major archives and their collections. There is also a search engine covering the combined partial holdings of over 800 archives across Canada, and online "virtual exhibits" of digitized archival materials.

See also Special Topics for archives specializing in selected topics.

See also the "Internet" tab above for some of the major digital archives of government publications.

Finding Primary Source Material on the Internet:
Many libraries, archives, museums, and others have digitized primary source materials to make them more accessible to researchers. One way to find primary source research materials online is to use the directories and sites that list institutions with collections on your topic and then check their websites for digitized materials. Another option is to check collections of digitized materials. The following are some of the major Canadian digital collections:

Canada's Digital Collections. Archived at Library and Archives Canada

This is a collection of Internet sites created between 1996 and 2004 by Canadians across the country, with funding from the federal government.

Canadian Government Publications Portal. Internet Archive Canada.

Includes thousands of federal, and Ontario government publications scanned by government and university libraries.

Canadian National Digital Heritage Index. CRKN. 

A searchable index to over 1,500 digital collections held at Canadian universities, provincial and territorial libraries, archives, heritage organizations, and others.

Politics and Government. Library and Archives Canada.

This web page brings together the LAC's digital collections, research aids and virtual exhibitions on the topic of Canadian politics and government.

Repository of Canadian Government Information Digitization Projects. University of Toronto.

An access point for many digitization projects and individual government documents. Can be searched by keyword and browsed.


NOTE: Using an Internet search engine such as Google may be useful as well, especially if your topic is very specific, although more care will have to be taken in evaluating the information found.