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Demystifying Mudd: Summer Student Employees

By Himaayah Agwedicham ’20 and Jasper Gebhardt ’20

Student Assistant for Technical Services: Himaayah Agwedicham ’20

This summer, I’ve worked as an assistant under Lynn Durgin, Special Collections Assistant for Technical Services. I process and review the records for senior theses, alumni files, and doctoral dissertations. Generally, I work most closely with the influx of newer materials that will become additions to the documented history of Princeton University. I spend most of my time in Mudd’s processing room, where I work on a library computer to review or log collections.

Although I usually work with new materials, one of my first projects was to collect and check for duplicates in Mudd’s extensive Class Reunions Books Collection (AC214). Princeton Reunions are notorious for being the largest and most consistently attended of such celebrations in the world. Over 25,000 alumni, family, and friends attend the celebration each year.

For about a day each week, I sifted through the Reunion books to determine if we had more than two duplicates of the same books. Working on Reunions books was very interesting, as they offer insight into both the relationships between the students as well as the shifting culture over time. Where as the earlier reunion books and directories tended to feature students who had come from prominent, affluent families from the northeast, later editions included more and more students of diverse backgrounds as the years progressed. Slowly but surely, the faces of the students in the Reunion books began to appear less homogeneous.

In addition to the Reunions books collection, I spent a significant amount of time reviewing alumni files and photographs in the Undergraduate Alumni Records (AC199). This has probably been the most tedious project I have worked on thus far. This collection consists of 801 boxes, each filled with over 50-60 files each pertaining to a single alumni. Over the course of 3 weeks, I reviewed the entire group of alumni files spanning from 1921 to 1932, checking that each file was in the correct order and box according to the excel spreadsheet previously created. When I was working on this, my day was primarily spent retrieving each box from the stacks, transporting it to the processing room, and going through each individual file.

Some of my smaller projects have been logging dissertations and paging for library patrons. Paging is simply the art of locating and retrieving materials from the stacks of collections that can be found on site at Mudd.

Two weeks ago, I began my most daunting project: processing senior theses. Due to difficulties uploading theses to our online database Dataspace, I only began processing theses a week ago. Thankfully, my extended stay at Mudd this summer will enable me to finish reviewing and permanently submitting 1200 theses into dataspace by the end of August.

When I began as a student assistant this summer, I quickly realized that Mudd is not your average library. Yes, there are lots and lots of books. And yes, the people come in to find materials for region. However, Mudd is different in that we do not primarily house books. We collect and house manuscripts, political papers, and a range of materials that pertain to Princeton’s various historical collections. Also, whereas patrons have a more liberal access to the materials at most other libraries, the patrons served by Mudd can only interact with unrestricted materials after requesting them online, and they cannot leave with said materials.

As a student assistant at Mudd, I am given a lot of time to work through projects at my own pace. Save for processing senior theses, my projects are usually all long term projects that are not tethered to a harsh deadline, so I am able to move back and forth between projects without feeling the burden of a pressing deadline. Working at Mudd library also gives me the opportunity to read and learn from Princeton’s extensive rare and special collections, which is something that many student assistants can’t say.

Student Assistant for Public Services: Jasper Gebhart ’20

I am a student assistant at Mudd this summer under April C. Armstrong *14, Special Collections Assistant for Public Services. This job is constantly changing and involves helping with lots of small projects that fall under the responsibilities of Public Services, the people-facing sector of Mudd. I have forayed into exhibit curation, putting together a small display case on money and currency in the Mudd collections (on display in our lobby if you’re interested). I have put together gift bags for conference attendees, sent dissertations to ReCAP, and rehoused documents that were in overstuffed boxes. Occasionally, I am asked to help with a reference question, and I venture off into the stacks to dig up information on what color hatband somebody wore at Reunions in 1925, or whether a certain hockey player from the 1800s had any middle names. Sometimes I work on blog posts like this one. These posts can have many different sources of inspiration. In the case of my upcoming post on Ivar Kreuger (the infamous “Swedish Match King”), my interest was sparked by stumbling on a collection of documents from one of Kreuger’s companies while searching for vintage matchbooks in the stacks.

I also have more normally scheduled duties. I staff the front desk during Mudd receptionist Bilqees Sayed’s lunch break; this involves answering calls, checking patrons in, processing their requests, and recommending nearby restaurants and cafes. I watch them in the reading room, making sure they have gloves for handling photographs or foam cradles for books. This is the loudest part of the library, with many different sounds: the paging buzzer, the barcode scanner, the front desk phone, the doorbell on the loading dock, and reference consultations in the lobby.

Sometimes I work in the processing room, where a small radio plays classical music and the Zeutschel scanner whirs rhythmically. I click away at Photoshop, straightening and color correcting and removing dust and specks. The processed scans are then sent off to their destinations, such as this blog or our HistoryPin collections. Our most recent HistoryPin collection on the Princeton-in-Peking program of the early 20th century, curated by Xinxian Cynthia Zheng GS, will be available soon.

My other main duty is paging. I spend some part of nearly every day paging. It can be therapeutic, the routine of unlocking the elevator and maneuvering the metal cart through the narrow aisles, quiet except for the motion-activated lights clicking on row by row. I find each box, sometimes by memory and sometimes using the access guide, a stack of well-thumbed papers containing the location of each collection in the library.

I have found some fascinating things in the stacks over the past several weeks. I stumbled upon FBI reports regarding the Selma to Montgomery marches and letters from Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the early 70s when she was on the other side of the Supreme Court bench fighting against gender discrimination. I have also found scrapbooks made by students who graduated hundreds of years ago, stuffed animals, and silver cigarette cases that still smell faintly of tobacco. I plan to return to Mudd in the fall as one of April’s part time assistants and make more discoveries.

This Week in Princeton History will return on September 3. Notable events of the week of August 20-26 we’ve shared with you in the past have included one of George Washington’s visits to campus, a Canadian library honors Princeton president John Grief Hibben with a memorial collection, and an alum wins an Olympic gold medal in rowing.

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