Finding and Navigating Libraries and Archives – Cristóbal López

Researchers have multiple ways to approach historical research and analysis. They can look through published secondary sources such as books, articles, and websites or they can go straight to the source and examine primary source documents such as diaries, letters, speeches, interviews, or any first record of a particular event.

My project at the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park requires me to look through both primary and secondary sources for information. Since I am a graduate student at the University of Texas at San Antonio, I have access to many secondary source databases provided through the UTSA library. These databases include Jstor, NewspaperArchive, Dissertation and Thesis Global, WorldCat, and more. All of these databases have been extremely useful in helping me locate relevant secondary sources for my research.

Bexar County Archives Building and the Texas A&M University-San Antonio Special Collections

When it comes to locating primary sources, San Antonio has over 30 libraries and archives. Since my research revolves around the Spanish Missions, I have visited the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park Library (where my office is located), the San Antonio Conservation Society Library and Archives, the Bexar County Spanish Archives, and the Texas A&M University San Antonio Special Collections. How do I find the right library and archive to visit for my research? Many Libraries and Archives made looking through their primary source collections easy by providing finding aids and catalogs on their websites.

Once I locate primary source material that I believe would be useful for my research, I contact the Library and Archive to schedule a research appointment. COVID-19 caused many libraries and archives to close, limit capacity, and to implement certain restrictions. Since the pandemic is not fully over, many libraries and archives are requiring researchers to schedule appointments. Someone libraries and archives are still closed to the public and do not make exceptions to researchers. Nevertheless, I have been fortunate the the libraries and archives that I have visited have been open and I have been able to look through wonderful primary sources.

Primary Source Documents Inside of the Bexar County Spanish Archives

That being said, looking at primary sources can be challenging at times. Depending on the age of the document and other factors, the document could be in bad condition. The document’s pages could be ripped, the ink could be faded, or the handwriting could be hard to read. To overcome this, libraries and museums have taken extreme precautionary measures to secure their primary source documents. If the condition of a document is too bad, libraries and archives will provide me with a transcription or copy of the document. Some libraries and Archives have digitized their primary source documents, making it easier for researchers to access the documents online rather than having to make a trip to the archives.

Primary sources are vital to historical research and have been extremely important to my research project. I am fortunate to be in a city with a massive amount of libraries and archives dedicated to preserving the history of San Antonio.

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