Demystifying Mudd: In-Person Research

A lot of what happens when someone comes to Mudd Library for research is invisible to our visitors, who usually only see our lobby and reading rooms.

Our library is open to the public, so you don’t have to be affiliated with Princeton to visit. Researchers are required to register before signing in and using the library, though, so if you haven’t already completed that step, we’ll help you get started.

You’ll need an access card from Firestone Library to sign in if you’re not currently affiliated with Princeton. The card is free and you can usually get one printed in just a few minutes. Like most library cards, the access card and Princeton’s Tiger Card both have a bar code on the back we can scan to pull up your account. We can then see what you’ve requested and print call slips to retrieve the materials.

If you need help to place a request, someone on our staff will come out to assist you. We always have someone on duty to talk with visitors who want extra guidance using our systems or finding material on a given subject. Two members of our staff are on call at all times. Though Public Services staff are most frequently on call, nearly everyone who works at Mudd is sometimes, from our newest Dulles Fellow to the University Archivist.

Once you know what you want and have your requests in, we will sign you in and give you a key to a locker to put your things away. We have ten numbered lockers that correspond to our ten numbered desks.

We ask you to put away most things, but there are a few things you can bring along with you into the reading rooms:

  • Your computer (tablets count as computers)
  • A power cord (we have outlets)
  • A pencil (we can give you one if you don’t have one)

If you’re taking photographs, you can also bring something that takes pictures (like your phone) after a member of our staff has discussed our policy on digital photographs with you. Anything that takes a picture is fine so long as it is hand-held (no tripods), you can turn the flash off, and it isn’t noisy.

If you’re working with something particularly large or you’re with a group that needs to talk without disturbing the rest of our visitors, we have a separate room for you to use with a larger table. We also have another reference reading room with commonly used materials in it, like the Nassau Herald and the Princeton Alumni Weekly, so you can access those without waiting for them to be brought to you.

While you’re getting settled, one of us goes into the stacks to retrieve your materials. We page on demand rather than on a set schedule, so the staff member sitting at the front desk will alert whoever is on duty for paging that the call slips are ready. We use a special perforated paper for our call slips and leave half in the stacks where your boxes are housed while you’re working on them. This makes it easy for us to return them once you’re finished.

Boxes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but one of the most common sizes is what we call a “record center box,” which is the size of the “Miracle Boxes” we showed you last week. Our larger carts will still only fit six record center boxes, so that is one reason for our rule that you can only have up to six boxes at one time. The other reason we limit the number of boxes we bring at once is that sometimes more than one person is working on the same range of boxes on the same day. We want everyone to have a fair opportunity to use our resources.

If your boxes contain any materials that might be restricted, a member of our staff will review them to ensure they can be delivered to you. Sometimes we’ll need to remove a file or you won’t be able to see something due to a restriction, but our staff will work with you to see if you can find answers to your questions in open records if it turns out we can’t bring something to you.

When materials are delivered to the reading room, the staff member who is paging will ask you to sign a slip for each box. These slips have bar codes that can be scanned at the front desk to make a record that you’re using them. Using this system helps us track what collections attract more visitors and maintain more general statistics about how many items are used in our library.

While you’re here, we remain available to answer your questions. Just come out to the front desk and let us know if you need help. You might need gloves for handling photographs, a magnifying glass, a foam book cradle, or something else, and we’re happy to assist you. We’ll also come into the reading room to talk with you if you find something that seems out of place or if you just have questions about what you’re reading. We can’t always decipher everyone’s handwriting, but we’ll give it a shot if you’re stumped. When you’re ready to go, you’ll retrieve your things from your locker, return the key, and give us any order or photo forms you have filled out. We’ll sign you out and put your materials back on the shelf so they’ll be ready the next time they’re needed.

This Week in Princeton History will return on September 3. Notable events of the week of July 16-22 we’ve shared with you in the past have included the death of James Johnson, the famous fugitive slave who escaped to Princeton; students bringing a calf into the pulpit of Nassau Hall; and a 7-page spread about a professor in New York Magazine that scandalized the nation.

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