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Demystifying Mudd: Remote Reference Assistance

Though we’ve welcomed thousands of researchers for in-person research at Mudd Library, that isn’t always an option for everyone. They might have conflicts with our operating hours, live far away, or just want to check in with us before they visit to find out what’s available on their topic. In that case, we respond to their questions remotely, primarily through email.

People ask all sorts of things. Here is a sampling of recent inquiries:

  • An author working on a book wants to publish an image held in the Public Policy Papers and needs help determining the copyright owner
  • An attorney has interest in material related to court cases in the ACLU Records
  • A professor at an institution in the midwest is researching course syllabi and wants to find some historical examples in the University Archives
  • A fact checker on a national game show wants to know who the first student to receive financial aid at Princeton was
  • A relative of a Princeton alum conducting genealogical research wants to order a digital copy of the alum’s school records
  • Princeton administrators need the names of employees in their office who worked there in the 1970s
  • A curator at a museum wants information about a photograph in an upcoming exhibition
  • A Princeton graduate student has a question about formatting a dissertation
  • An alum is researching class history in preparation for Princeton Reunions
  • A graduate student at a northeastern university needs help finding information about Princeton’s approach to admission in the 1930s
  • A journalist in New York needs photographs of a former Princeton faculty member for an upcoming article
  • A writer with the Princeton Alumni Weekly needs to verify data for upcoming entries in the memorials section
  • Someone planning to visit the library has questions about procedures
  • A Princeton undergraduate wants to view digitized senior theses away from campus

Each question is assigned to a member of our staff who will answer it, generally within five business days. Though we do limit the amount of research we do for an individual patron to one hour, most questions do not take that long to answer, because we’re familiar with our holdings. We also have an advantage over our patrons because we can conduct our research in the closed stacks. If we need to refer quickly to a box or two, we can pull the relevant file(s) in just a few minutes.

No member of our staff is solely devoted to answering emails. We not only work on the remote reference questions people ask, but also assist researchers in person and perform a wide range of other duties that keep the library running smoothly, some of which you’ve already seen the “Demystifying Mudd” series this summer. This means that sometimes we’ll have to provide directions for further investigation and let someone else continue digging. If truly extensive research is required for remote patrons, we might suggest they hire a research assistant or apply for a Friends of the Princeton University Library Research Grant to take a trip to Princeton for themselves.

We use a ticketing system called LibAnswers to organize and log our reference questions, which also helps us track our statistics. LibAnswers provided the data behind the charts you see in this blog. Mudd Library answered close to 3,700 remote reference questions in the last fiscal year (July 1, 2017-June 30, 2018), averaging a little over 300 per month.

This Week in Princeton History will return on September 3. Notable events of the week of August 13-19 we’ve shared with you in the past have included a stabbing at morning prayers, installation of telephones on campus, and a theft at the art museum.

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