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MS915 Research Skills: Step 2: Types of Sources

Types of Sources


Archives are typically a collection of historical records or the physical place in which they are located. They are usually PRIMARY source documents that have been gathered together - sometimes to show the function of a particular person or organization. Some archives are private institutions and may not have the funding to completely digitize all of their resources, so they require you to go in person to search. Some examples include:

  • Brooklyn Public Library has an archive of materials documenting the history and people of the Borough of Brooklyn and it can be accessed in person or through their digital collections online
  • The Digital Public Library of America collects over 35 million images, texts, videos, and sounds from libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural heritage institutions. All of their digital collection can be searched online here


Databases are subscriptions that provide access to a variety of scholarly (peer-reviewed) journals as well as trade magazines and newspapers.  Typically they are SECONDARY sources, but can sometimes be primary sources (i.e., newspaper articles). Many databases are considered "gated," meaning they require a password or authentication to access. Below are a list of databases you may want to use for middle school research that are available through these links anywhere in the state of NY (so you can view them at home, too). Additional databases can be accessed through the Brooklyn Public Library your Brooklyn Public Library card. Some examples include:

  • Gale in Context: Middle School is my favorite database because it provides videos, newspaper articles, magazine articles, primary sources, and more. Categories cover a range of topics including cultures, government, people, US and world history, literature, and more. I think about Gale as a "one stop shop." Pro tip:you can listen, highlight, translate, and even get a citation from all Gale databases. 
  • Gale in Context: Opposing Viewpoints is a rich resource for debaters and includes viewpoints, reference articles, infographics, news, images, video, audio, and more. Pro tip:you can listen, highlight, translate, and even get a citation from all Gale databases. 
  • Kids InfoBits provides basic information and short articles about a broad range of topics. It's a great place to get basic information and keywords about a topic, but might not have enough detail to help with all your research needs. 
  • is an online platform with video courses to learn about business, software, technology, and creative skills. can be accessed online with your Brooklyn Public Library card number and 4-digit PIN # (month and date of birth; for example June 5 is 0605)


Encyclopedias are reference materials that are a TERTIARY source; that means they are created from both primary and secondary sources. They are extremely useful in order to get background information and keyword to use in your next search. Be aware of "online encyclopedias" that include a lot of advertisements or do not have a date or author listed. Encyclopedia articles will likely NOT be part of your annotated bibliography for National History Day - they are just a starting point for the research process. Some examples include:

  • Encyclopedia Britannica Academic Edition is a subscription-based encyclopedia available anywhere within the state of New York (authenticate with your location). 
  • Wikipedia is the world's largest free encyclopedia, but anyone can contribute and change an article. Wikipedia is a great place to start the research process and learn more about your topic; look for search terms to take to scholarly journals, databases, and archives to complete your research.