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SSI2-148: Medical Narratives: Identifying Primary Sources

Selecting Your Primary Source Material

Selecting your primary source text is one of the most important decisions you will make as you undertake this research project.  Try to give yourself sufficient time to explore multiple options.  You will want to choose a primary text that invites numerous questions related to the theme of the course and that is rich and complex enough to allow for extended analysis and interpretation.  Be aware that your research question may need to be reshaped as you analyze your primary text and learn more about your topic.


Medical narratives are located in many different sections of Collins Library.  You can use Library of Congress Subject Headings in Primo (the library catalog) to help identify potential texts, and then use the call number for each title to locate the book.  Note that some titles may need to be requested from SUMMIT.

Each module in the left column below provides:

  1. Specific formats and wording for relevant subject headings;
  2. A few examples of literary medical narratives that share these subject headings


In the right column, you will find information about searching for primary texts using the LitMed database, which you can then search for in Primo to find out if it is available at Collins Library. You'll also find tips for requesting physical items at Collins Library and information about requesting materials from other libraries. 

Search Primo


Use the following formula for composing Library of Congress Subject Headings:

su: [specific name of disease, illness, injury or condition] -- personal narratives

     Examples:  su: Depressive disorder -- personal narratives

                        su: Breast neoplasms -- personal narratives

su: [role of person] -- personal narratives

     Example:  su: Physicians -- personal narratives

Graphic Memoirs

Use the following formula for composing Library of Congress Subject Headings:

su: [specific name of disease, illness, injury or condition] -- Comic books, strips, etc.

     Example:  su: Cancer -- Comic books, strips, etc.

su: [name of treatment] -- Comic books, strips, etc.

     Example: su: Psychotherapy -- Comic books, strips, etc.


Use the following formula for composing Library of Congress Subject Headings:

su: [name of disease, illness, injury or condition] -- Patients -- Fiction

     Examples:  su:  Leukemia -- Patients -- Fiction

su: [role of person] -- Fiction

     Example:  su: Physicians -- Fiction

Nonfiction Medical Narrative

*For this option, do make sure that the text you select has a strong narrative thread or it may not work well for the assignment. If you're uncertain, check with Prof. Irvin! 

Use the following formula for composing Library of Congress Subject Headings:

su: [name of disease, illness, injury or condition] -- History

     Example:  su: Cancer -- History

su: [field of medical study] -- Popular works

     Example:  su: Epidemiology -- Popular works

su: [specific treatment or medical procedure] -- History

     Example:  su: Vaccinations -- History

LitMed: The Literature, Arts and Medicine Database

LitMed Logo

Browsing and Searching LitMed

There are a variety of ways to navigate the LitMed database: search by keyword, browse entries by genre, or view the index to find works by title, author/creator, keywords, or by genre.

LitMed Search


Use the Advanced Search to find items that meet multiple criteria.

LitMed Advanced Search

Reading a Call Number

Collins Library uses the Library of Congress classification scheme to organize books on the shelves. Each book in the library has a unique call number indicated on its spine. Use the call number and follow these tips to find the book you need.


Call Number example


  • Start with the top line. It is in alphabetical order. Ex. PN
  • The second line is a whole number.  Ex. 6747
  • The third line is  a combination of a letter and numbers. Read the letter alphabetically. Read the number as a decimal, eg. Y.23, Y.34, Y.344, Y.4, etc. Ex. .B2213 (*Some call numbers have more than one combination letter-number line.)
  • The last line is the year the book was published. Read in chronological order. Ex. 2001, 2005, 2010, 2015, etc. Ex. 2005

Use the library location chart and map to find where the book is located.

Book Check Out

You may check out print materials from Collins Library and/or request print materials from SUMMIT libraries:

1.  Search Primo to identify materials that you'd like to read.  Be sure to sign in to Primo to make sure that all options appear to you.

2.  For Collins Library books, select the "Request Collins copy" option.

Request link

3.  Library staff will retrieve the book and check it out to your account, at which point you'll receive an email notification.  Once you've received the notification, you may pick up the book in the library lobby at any time the library is open.  

Summit Borrowing

If your book is not available at Collins Library, Summit Borrowing allows you to get books from the other libraries that belong to the same consortium of academic libraries in the Pacific Northwest. Instead of just one library, it's like you've got 38! 

To request a book from another library, just click the link to "Request item from SUMMIT" in Primo.

Request from Summit

Books take 3-5 working days to arrive, at which point they will be held for you at the circulation desk for one week, where you can pick them up with your ID card. You may keep Summit books for 6 weeks and there is an option to renew. You can see your Summit requests by clicking the 'My Account' link when logged in to Primo. 

Use Your Local Public Library!

If you are not living on campus or locally, or are otherwise unable to take advantage of our local pickup option, don't forget that your book might also be available in your local public library!

Tacoma Public Library

All Tacoma residents are eligible to register for a free eCard with Tacoma Public Library online. Once registered, your eCard allows you to access online databases through TPL, check out and place holds for physical items, borrow eBooks and audiobooks, and much more. 

Need Help?

This subject guide highlights only a small portion of the many resources available to you. If you're not finding what you need, don't hesitate to contact Katy!

Katy Curtis, Humanities Librarian
Schedule an appointment
tel: (253) 879-3672
office: Collins Library 140

If you can't find Katy, remember there are several ways to get help with your research

For immediate assistance, connect to our 24/7 Ask a Librarian chat service.