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.

Meet Mudd’s Annalise Berdini

Name/Title: Annalise Berdini, Digital Archivist

Responsibilities: As Digital Archivist, I am responsible for the ongoing management of the University Archives Digital Curation Program. This generally involves evaluating how we acquire, process, and preserve our born-digital records and crafting policy to support those actions. This involves a lot of preservation tool research and testing, communication with other archives programs to inquire about their digital curation workflows, and lots of webinars. I process born-digital collections, as well as analog ones, help manage our growing web archives collections, and assist with reference services.

Recent projects: While we currently have backed-up storage space for our born-digital records, it is not as robust as a dedicated digital preservation system. I’m working with my colleagues to select a system that will provide us with greater control over our born-digital collections in the long term. There is a fairly widespread misconception that digital records are easier to maintain and preserve than paper records — but paper records won’t be unreadable in 15 years because their software isn’t available anymore! With a digital preservation system, we will be able to carefully monitor our files to make sure the data hasn’t changed over time, migrate them to more stable formats, maintain geographically disparate copies for additional security, and encrypt sensitive data. Aside from that, I’m working on helping pare down our processing backlog, and I’m a part of a number of committees working on developing better delivery systems and policies for our digitized materials.

Worked at Mudd since: I started at Mudd in January 2018 — so I’m still pretty new! Before that, I was the first Digital Archivist at University of California, San Diego in Special Collections and Archives. I also worked at UCSD as a Manuscripts/Archives Processor, and before that, I was a project assistant and processor on the 2013-2014 PACSCL/CLIR Hidden Collections Project in Philadelphia.

Why I like my job/archives: Archives are here for people to use them, for people to be able to interact with their own history. Born-digital records are often unstable, or they are easily lost in the deluge of data that people can so quickly generate. As a result, we’re rushing to reckon with the new ways gaps can form in the record. I’m passionate about preventing these gaps from forming and about preparing for what archives will look like in the future. They won’t only be stacks full of boxes – they will be cloud storage, computer servers, and access interfaces. One of my favorite aspects of working on born-digital records is that my work constantly changes and I’m always learning how to use new tools and skill sets. No one has all of the right answers yet. It’s exciting to be a part of that process of investigation and discovery.

Favorite item/collection: This is a tough one! It’s not necessarily my favorite, but I came across some really interesting maps of land tracts that Princeton acquired from the early 1900s in the Office of Physical Planning Records. The maps depicted some campus buildings and a lot of the farmland surrounding Princeton — much of which is now also part of campus.

Meet Mudd’s Michelle Peralta

Name: Michelle Peralta

Title: John Foster and Janet Avery Dulles Archival Fellow

Educational background: From San Diego State University, I have previously earned a bachelor’s degree in European humanities with a minor in classical languages, as well as a master’s degree in history. This summer, I am finishing up my very last class to complete my master of library and information science degree from San Jose State University’s School of Information.

Previous experience: Prior to this fellowship, I held an internship at the University of California San Diego’s special collections and archives, where I helped process faculty papers and created metadata for a digitized photograph collection. I also assisted with outreach efforts as a volunteer at Lambda Archives of San Diego, and served as the archivist at a local history archives for two years.

Why I like archives: I like that “discovery” can happen in various ways in archive. A researcher might find a record that supports their thesis. Someone might find an article that helps them connect with long-lost family members. Archives can even impact the way an individual or whole community thinks about their existence –they can find themselves existing in ways they hadn’t considered before – and all due to the inclusion of a single record. It’s incredible to think about.

Other interests: Outside of the archives, I enjoy baking, wandering in nature, defending the name of Slytherin house, and watching re-runs of my favorite shows. As the World Cup is this summer, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time trying to catch various matches!

Projects this summer: I have already started processing a couple paper-based collections and assisting researchers with their reference questions. In the coming weeks, I’ll start processing some born-digital projects and assisting in the migration of an AV database. I am also eager to work on Mudd’s next exhibition, which will focus on the women at Princeton, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Princeton as a co-educational institution.

There’s a First Time for Everything

By Valencia Johnson

Recently, my case study of processing emails was published on the Society of American Archivists’ Electronic Records Section blog, bloggERS! This was the fourth entry in their series on archiving digital communication. In my blog, I discuss the different tools I used to locate personally identifiable information and credit card numbers. You can read the full post and other entries within the series here.

Meet Mudd’s Valencia Johnson

Name: Valencia Johnson

Position: John Foster and Janet Avery Dulles Archival Fellow

Educational Background: I recently graduated from Baylor University with a master’s in Museum Studies. My focus was archives and special collections. I earned my bachelor’s degree in History and American Studies from the University of Kansas.

Previous experience: In my two years at Baylor, I processed several collections that included Baylor’s presidential papers. In addition to processing, I worked at the reference desks for the University’s archives and the special collection library, Armstrong Browning. I also curated exhibits for Baylor’s main library and for the Mayborn Museum Complex.

Why I like archives: I think it is amazing that archives enable people, notable and ordinary, to have an impact on others and the collective human knowledge long after they’re gone. You’re able to understand the private working of an institution or the intimate thoughts of an individual. I love that the field is able to help researchers through digital access.

Other interests: It may come as no surprise that I love museums. I enjoy exploring places, so NYC and Philadelphia are on my list to visit this summer. All recommendations for places to see are welcomed. I also like coffee, comics (books and movies), and cooking.

Projects this summer: I am pleased to work on enhancing the description of the Communications Records photograph series, being a part of the exhibit team, and working with my fellow fellows on the born-digital research project. I’m excited to learn EAD and about the challenges of handling digital-born materials.

Meet Mudd’s Will Clements

Name: Will Clements

Position: John Foster and Janet Avery Dulles Archival Fellow

Educational Background: I earned my bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas at Austin. I studied English literature, with a minor in Russian language and history. I’m currently working on my master’s degree in Information Studies at the UT Austin School of Information. My focus is on archives, both traditional and digital, and I’ll graduate in December of this year.

Previous experience: Since 2003, I’ve worked in the Reading Room at the LBJ Presidential Library. My work there includes administrative duties, public service, and reference. When I return to the LBJ Library in August, I will be transitioning from public service to technical service projects under the supervision of our digital archivist. I’m pleased to be gaining more experience in both these areas during my time at Mudd.

Why I like archives: I believe that archives are important centers of cultural memory (to borrow a phrase from Jeannette Bastian). It’s really gratifying to be a part of preserving and providing access to that memory. Interacting with the scholarly community is another perk for me, and I also enjoy working with younger researchers encountering archives for the first time.

Other interests: I love hiking and walking in the woods. My house in Princeton is about a mile from Community Park and the Witherspoon Woods, and I’ve spent a lot of time exploring the trails since I arrived. I’m looking forward to checking out some of the other parks and nature preserves in the area this summer. While indoors I enjoy cooking, movies, reading, and collecting rare books (mostly genre fiction).

Projects this summer: I’m thrilled to be getting a good deal of description and arrangement experience already, and I’m looking forward to researching and answering reference questions starting in June. I’m also keen to learn about processing and providing access to born-digital collections.

An Update on Archiving Student Activism at Princeton (ASAP)

The following is a guest post by Chase Hommeyer ’19, a first-year undergraduate student at Princeton working at the Mudd Manuscript Library this semester.

Hi everyone! My name’s Chase, I’m an undergraduate here at Princeton, and I’ll be working at the Mudd Manuscript Library in the Princeton University Archives this semester on the initiative Archiving Student Activism and Princeton (ASAP).

I arrived on campus with the perception that the legacy of Princeton was one of prestige, rigor, achievement…and rigid tradition. I didn’t perceive that there was, or ever had been, a great deal of room on Princeton’s campus for activism–which is why I was so shocked when I started talking to Princeton’s archivists and began learning about the incredible tradition of movement, contention, and action on our campus.


Princeton Alumni Weekly Photograph Collection (AC126), Box 38

Continue reading

Meet Mudd’s Elena Colon-Marrero

Elena meeting Martha

Elena nervously meeting Martha Washington for the first time.

Name: Elena Colon-Marrero, John Foster and Janet Avery Dulles Archival Fellow

Title/Duties: As the Dulles Fellow I work with the Digital Archivist and the Public Policy Papers Archivist to process collections with a focus on born-digital collections. I’m also gaining reference experience and will be conducting research for an upcoming exhibition on the Princeton Triangle Club.

Recent projects: Currently, I am working on a survey of the types of digital media (floppy disks, CDs, DVDs, USBs, etc.) found within the Public Policy Papers and the University Archives. It has been interesting to see the extent of digital media in the various collections. I also get a little giddy when I find a new type. I’ve been learning how to use and write scripts for a Linux operating system.

Worked at Mudd since: I began at Mudd in May of 2015 and will continue through August. I am working on my master’s at the University of Michigan’s School of Information specializing in Archives and Records Management and Preservation of Information. At Michigan I work at the Bentley Historical Library and the William L. Clements Library. I am a current officer of the Society of American Archivists Student Chapter.

Why I like my job/archives: The fact that I learn someone new almost every day is why I love working in archives. I love learning new facts. As a former academic bowl member, I can’t get enough of new information.

Favorite item/collection: While conducting my digital media survey I was directed to the John Van Antwerp MacMurray Papers. I was confused as to why 1920s films of China and the Philippines would show up on my survey. I quickly discovered that the films MacMurray took while Minister to China have been digitized. Though I have yet to watch them, the films piqued my interests.

Mudd Manuscript Library Summer Fellowship Available

The Mudd Manuscript Library, a unit of Princeton University Library’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, offers the John Foster and Janet Avery Dulles Archival Fellowship for one graduate student each year. This fellowship provides a summer of work experience for a graduate student interested in pursuing an archival career.

The 2015 Fellow will focus primarily on technical services but will also gain experience in public services. Under the guidance of the Digital Archivist and Public Policy Papers Archivist, the Fellow will conduct a survey of digital media held within the University Archives and Public Policy Papers. The Fellow will then process select born-digital collections in accordance with the Library’s priorities and the Fellow’s interests. Additionally, the Fellow will participate in the reference rotation and conduct research for an upcoming exhibition on the Princeton Triangle Club. As time allows, the Fellow will assist with projects to enhance existing description in finding aids and curate a small exhibition on the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Japan. Previous Fellows and their work are listed here.

The Mudd Library is a state-of-the-art repository housing the Princeton University Archives and a highly regarded collection of 20th-century public policy papers. The more than 35,000 linear feet of archival and manuscript material are widely used by local, national, and international researchers. More than 2,000 visitors use Mudd Library’s reading room each year, and its staff field some 2,000 electronic, mail, and telephone inquiries annually. A progressive processing program, the use of new technologies, and an emphasis on access and public service have ensured that Mudd Library’s collections are ever more accessible.

The ten- to twelve-week fellowship program, which may be started as early as May, provides a stipend of $775 per week. In addition, travel, registration, and hotel costs to the Society of American Archivists’ annual meeting in August will be reimbursed.

Requirements: Successful completion of at least twelve graduate semester hours (or the equivalent) applied toward an advanced degree in archives, library or information management, American history, American studies, or museum studies; demonstrated interest in the archival profession; and good organizational and communication skills. At least twelve undergraduate semester hours (or the equivalent) in American history is preferred. The Library highly encourages applicants from under-represented communities to apply.

To apply: Applicants should submit a cover letter and resume to: Additionally, applicants should have two letters of recommendation sent to directly from the persons making the recommendation. Applications must be received by Monday, March 9, 2015. Skype interviews will be conducted with the top candidates, and the successful candidate will be notified in late March.

Please note: University housing will not be available to the successful candidate. Interested applicants should consider their housing options carefully and may wish to consult the online campus bulletin board for more information on this topic.

Meet Mudd’s Jarrett M. Drake


Name/Title: Jarrett M. Drake, Digital Archivist

Responsibilities: As the digital archivist at Mudd, I’m responsible for the development, implementation, and execution of processes that facilitate the effective acquisition, description, preservation, and access of born-digital archival collections acquired by the University Archives. The emphasis on ‘born-digital’ is to distinguish my work from that of digitization, which is a process that converts analog material into digital formats. Born-digital records are those that originated as microscopic inscriptions of 0’s and 1’s on a piece of magnetic media.


“Magnetic Force Microscopy (MFM) of a Magnetic Hard Disk,” taken from MIT

Preserving and providing access to those 0’s and 1’s, or bits, is too challenging a problem for any single person to solve, so many of my duties require me to collaborate with others in the University Archives and across campus. This often involves me meeting with our University Archivist, the Assistant University Archivist for Technical Services (to whom I report), and the University Records Manager. As exciting as it is to dive into the past by hacking away at old and new media—and trust me, doing this is really exciting—the most important element of my success is laying the infrastructure for our Digital Curation Program, which we initiated two months ago. Infrastructure is invisible to most of us but critical for all of us. More on that in future posts.

Lest I lead you to believe that I work exclusively in the digital realm, I also do things that archivists have always done: processing paper records and performing reference services in person, on the phone, and over email.

Ongoing projects: Because our Digital Curation Program is rather nascent, I spend a majority of my time drafting policy documents for the program as well as revising workflows for how we process born-digital records. Outside of that, I contribute to several Library-wide working groups and task forces. When I’m not doing one of those two things, you can probably find me working with a new digital preservation tool or strengthening my command of various operating systems.

Worked at Mudd since: I began at Mudd in November of 2013. Prior to Princeton, I served as University Library Associate at the Special Collections Library of the University of Michigan, a post I maintained for nearly two years while I completed my master’s degree in information science at the School of Information. Before Michigan, I had brief stints at the Maryland State Archives and Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Why I like my job/archives: Contrary to general perception, archivists are concerned equally with the future as they are with the past. Yes, we manage records that document past activities, but we do so only for future use by researchers. In this way, I see my job as a digital archivist as one that preserves the past in order to promise the future. That promise is harder to ensure when it comes to digital records, but it’s a challenge that I find to be terrifyingly exciting and incredibly meaningful. Also, I learn something new each and every day, which is one of the most fulfilling aspects of my work.

And though I put a lot of time and energy into curating bits, I joined the profession because I like people. I enjoy assisting them with their research questions and it gratifies me that I can contribute to the creation of new knowledge about the past. The roughest days I encounter are immediately turned around when a researchers says “I can’t thank you enough for your assistance” or “without you, I’m not sure I could have answered this question.” Those are my reminders that I chose the right profession.

Favorite item/collection: Recently I responded to a researcher who sought information about the first Japanese student to graduate from Princeton. I spent some time digging around our Historical Subject Files and our Alumni Undergraduate Records collection to learn that in 1876, Hikoichi Orita was the University’s first Japanese student to graduate.


Authored by Walter Mead Rankin, 1884. Found in “Orita, Hikoichi,” Box 148, Undergraduate Alumni Records, Princeton University Archives, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.

In addition to his alumni files, we have a copy of his student diary, which I told myself I would read slowly over my career. It’s in English, in case you’re interested in viewing it, too. This is a classic example where a researcher informs the interests of the archivist, instead of vice versa.