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Primary Source Material in the Public Library

You may be tempted to keep older history materials, such as those written during the time the event was happening, because they are “important” or as valuable primary source material. Here’s the thing about primary sources: they are valuable and important; crucial to good research, even. Here’s the other thing about primary sources: they rarely belong in your average neighborhood public library.  Why not? I can hear you shaking your heads! Why on earth would a public library weed primary source material?

If your public library’s mission includes a statement about archiving and preserving, then yes, primary sources are for you! If your public library’s mission involves providing college or professional-level research materials, then yes, primary sources are for you as well! For everyone else, whose public library missions are to support the educational, entertainment, and life-long learning needs of the community through popular materials and programming (for example), primary sources are not for you. You’ll be better off with books that put history in its proper context: the past.