How can Special Collections assist you with your learning and research?
If you are looking for source material for an undergraduate essay, a PhD. thesis, or an academic publication, you will find an extraordinary range of printed books, journals, manuscripts, archives and visual material within our Special Collections.
Our Special Collections constitute one of the most important primary sources in Britain, with over one million individual items located in many hundreds of discrete collections. Faced with such a wealth of material, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Where to start? The possibilities can seem endless.
Before you decide upon a research topic, it is advisable to find out what sources are available, both at the JRUL and elsewhere.
If you are researching for an dissertation or thesis, it is important to talk to your tutor or supervisor at an early stage. They may know of important material either at the Rylands or elsewhere. They may also be able to suggest avenues of research, and ways of improving your proposal.
It is also important to talk to Library staff. We can’t tell you exactly how to do your research, and it certainly isn’t our job to do it for you! But we may know of relevant source material. We may also be able to tell you if someone has worked on a collection or item before. This may save you time in duplicating effort.
Special Collections can benefit your research in several ways:
- They constitute primary evidence, unlike secondary sources. Primary sources are still subject to bias, and must be handled with caution. But they aren’t subject to the mediation and further layers of bias of secondary sources. Special Collections take you closer to the people, events and themes you are studying.
- You will enhance your research skills and develop a critical approach to research. If you are an undergraduate or taught PG, using Special Collections will help to prepare you for undertaking a PhD.
- You will have the opportunity to make original contributions to knowledge. You can make genuine discoveries, or reinterpret sources that have been used before.
- There is the ‘tingle factor’ - the thrill and inspiration that comes from handling and reading old books and documents, personal diaries, intimate letters and first-hand accounts of historic events.
- It may be tempting to focus on well-known and well-catalogued material with Special Collections. But don’t ignore the less obvious sources. Like an explorer, you are more likely to make significant discoveries if you move off the beaten track.