Background: the methodology of historical research depends on a commitment to reporting and record keeping based on investigation of primary and secondary sources. This dependence on finding and assessing the reliability of information sources presents particular challenges to designers of information retrieval software intended to support historical research. Aim: this paper reports the results of a questionnaire distributed as the first phase of a research project intended to assess the information needs of historians working with original and/or digitised primary resources. We have been particularly interested in the work of “local” historians working with archives of local newspapers and with image collections that are in the process of being digitised. The prim ary aim at this stage was to discover whether these historians have a preference between original or digitised resources and to understand the reasons behind any preferences. In the longer term we aim to apply what we have learned to the development of a model of information seeking behaviour that can be used to guide the design of information retrieval applications supporting local historical research. Method: an online survey was distributed to historians in 43 universities in the UK. Results: The results show that historians make an interesting distinction between their preference for working with original documents and the greater “usefulness” of digitised resources. Conclusions: Historical research presents a number of unique challenges. Further research is needed into the unique aspects of the local historian’s information seeking behaviour. An important focus for this research will be the design of archival information retrieval systems that address these unique requirements.