Digital History

Digging Deeper into Document Repositories


First published on August 24, 2019. Last updated on February 18, 2020.

Activity Objectives

  • Students will learn methods for digging deeper into more examples and types of digital document and record repositories.

Additional Repositories

There are some obvious digital repositories that show up with a basic web search. However, there are additional types of digital repositories that will be of value that might require deeper searching or directly contacting the source institution.

Some smaller organizations have collections that are digitalized, but may not be online. These may be on disks (CDs, DVDs, etc.), magnetic tapes, or other older digital media. Specialized reading devices might not be commonly available, but the institution itself might still have a working device. At least punch cards and paper hole tape are less common these days, but not entirely extinct.

Needless to say, you might have to go to the physical site to access these materials. Fortunately, libraries will provide short term fellowships if the site is far away or you will require a few months to go through the materials. Or if you know exactly what you need, the institution might make a copy of the desired materials. (First, ask your home library if they can request a copy, because there are often inter-library agreements and consortia that facilitate such requests.)

University Libraries

University libraries are an obvious source, and they can often get you past paywalls for digital journal articles and books. They may also have online research help guides for particular subjects. Often universities have their own collections of digitized primary sources, especially for regional records, events, newspapers and photographs or valuable donated collections. Many items in such collections may be unique. You might need student, faculty or staff status to access those materials, even if you pay for a “friends of” membership.

Public and Community Libraries

Community libraries often have their own sources of local original materials, and their collections often contain some rare original sources. Community libraries can sometimes be a way to get past paywalls or obtain books from university libraries (such as through the Link+ service). The collections and services of community libraries can vary tremendously.

Historical Societies

Historical societies have original local and regional historical sources which might encompass much more than you would expect. These societies have often digitized at least part of their collection. Example: California Historical Society digital collections. Check to see if you have a special status that can get you enhanced access.


Obviously, museums often have extensive collections of original sources (albeit often in artifact form). What is less known is that some museums also operate as research institutes and may have extensive libraries and subject files. You may have to get special permission to access those materials or even to see their collection listings, so be prepared to make a specific request and to justify it. It may be a challenge to locate such libraries, so keep trying. They often don’t really want the general public to know of their existence.


Journals typically contain secondary sources, but may also have partial or full reproductions of original sources. Some journals, issues and articles might be behind paywalls, but sometimes those articles are also available though free sources.


Some newspapers keep files of historical information on topics of interest. They may keep images of old issues online or on microfilm. Google News often does not go back very far, so you may have to search directly on a newspaper’s site for stories long ago. (Sometimes a regular web search works better for finding old news than Google News.)


There are comprehensive digital archives sources, such as the Internet Archive, “a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more.”


  • Bibtex is a reference management system for users of LaTeX.
  • Endnote is a general program for storing reference information.
  • Master’s program, Humanités numériques et computationnelles (a short video with English subtitles)
  • Master’s program, Digital Humanities (video), University College London.
  • SQLite database system to create, edit and store tables and records.
  • Soir is a search engine for your site (requires experienced developers to set up.)


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