Faculty Lounge readers may recall my protracted efforts to obtain a copy of Alice Goffman’s dissertation. Following my repeated inquiries, it was finally deposited in Princeton’s Mudd Manuscript Library on Friday, July 10.
I asked the NU Library to inquire about obtaining a copy. We received the following reply:
Thank you for your inquiry to the Mudd Manuscript Library. We do have a copy of Alice Goffman's dissertation, however, the copy is only available for research in our reading room. Your professor can visit the library at their convenience to view the dissertation. No photocopying, digital photography, or other forms of reproduction is permitted.
We encourage researchers to register in advance of their visit, though they are welcome to do so onsite. To preregister for a Special Collections Research Account, please click here: https://libweb10.princeton.edu/aeon/
As some of you know, I have a physical disability that makes it extremely difficult for me to travel, so I had to arrange for a student research assistant to go to Princeton. Although 95% of all U.S. dissertations are readily available on ProQuest, and need only be downloaded, the Mudd Library security procedures made reading the Goffman dissertation complicated, to say the least. (I am not suggesting that the Mudd Library raised any barriers that were unique to Goffman; but the restriction to on-premises review imposed unusual, and in my opinion quite unnecessary, obstacles.)
I will later have some observations about the content of the dissertation. But first, for your amusement, here is the saga of how my student got to read the dissertation version of On the Run:
One law student’s attempt to review a Princeton University dissertation
Armed with a map of the campus I printed out ahead of time, my laptop, and my driver’s license (just in case), I headed to the E-Quad—short for engineering quad—where the [Mudd] library was located.
I was greeted by a pleasant student sitting at the reception desk. To my right was a large glass wall with double doors and, beyond that, a room with several bare wooden desks in staggered lines, oriented such that each one was totally visible from the reception desk. I was told by student at the desk that I needed to obtain an access card in order to use the Mudd Library, and I could get one at the main library building across campus. I had to fill out a form online, obtain the card, and return here to fill out two more online forms. I told the student I had already created a Princeton library account in preparation for my research, but he insisted that there was a separate process to obtain a dissertation. I shrugged and set off for the main library.
As it turns out, the map of the Princeton campus I had found online was less than accurate. I found the main library after some meandering and one tense conversation with a tour guide who was leading a pack of wide-eyed eighteen-year-olds with cameras and hovering parents. I was told by yet another pleasant-seeming student at a reception desk that typically non-Princeton-affiliated individuals would be able to obtain a pass to go into the library easily, I would have needed small cardstock rectangle with my name written in pencil or ink. What I was asking for, however, required a different kind of pass. The student pointed to a small room on the side of the building and promptly went back to reading a magazine.
I was again greeted by a pleasant Princeton employee at yet another desk. She told me I would have to fill out an online form to create an account. I explained that I had already created a Princeton library account, but she insisted I see the librarian at the Special Collections Desk next door anyway. I smiled back at her and set off yet again.
Everyone working within the Princeton library system smiles. Although no one had yet gotten me any closer to what I came for, I felt as though they were trying to help me. Unsurprisingly, when I found the Special Collections librarian, she was smiling as she explained to an exasperated-looking patron that he would have to wash his hands very carefully before touching the book he had requested. “I’m in the right place though?” he asked frantically. The patron was not smiling. It looked like he had been running around longer than I had.
The Special Collections librarian sat me in front of an ancient Dell desktop computer and pulled up the online form I supposedly needed. It was the Princeton library account homepage. I explained that I had already made this account, I must need another form. Her smile dropped. “This is the only page you should need to fill out.” Having confirmed what I originally thought, I thanked her and left.
I returned to the student who had sent me to Special Collections. After I explained again that I had a Princeton online account, that Special Collections had sent me back here, she waved her hand in the direction of a wooden chair in front of a turquoise screen. “Take a seat, I’ll be right with you. Driver’s license first, please.”
After a few minutes of waiting while she slowly typed my information into another ancient Dell, she quickly snapped my picture and a machine to her right spat out an ID card. It looked and felt like a driver’s license, made from the same laminated plastic. Across the bottom, a bold red banner read “Rare Books and Special Collections PATRON.” Triumphantly, I returned to the Mudd Library at the other end of campus.
The same student greeted me at reception. “You’re back!” he said, surprised. I signed the logbook on the desk and showed him my access card. “Okay, let’s get you started.” I had been waiting to hear those words all day.
“First, you have to make an account,” he began. I politely stopped him. I had already made an account, I had told him that before, as I had told several other people. “Are you sure?” Yes, I am sure. I’m all good to go. “Okay, great. What can I help you with today?” I gave him the author’s name, Alice Goffman, and the year of publication, 2010. He squinted at his computer screen. “It says here that it’s embargoed.” I began to sweat. No, it was recently unembargoed, I told him. He looked closer at the screen, which apparently helped. “Oh yeah, I see. Go ahead.”
A second student came to help me. She said I had to request a copy of the manuscript through my online account, even if I had explained what I needed to the student at the desk. Then, she would go back into the library itself and pull the dissertation for me. It occurred to me then that all I could see of the Mudd Library were the reception area, the reading rooms beyond glass walls, and a few doors that presumably lead to bathrooms and storage rooms. For all I knew, this was the entire building; where were the books?
The student helping me explained that the University stores a lot of documents here (student transcripts, for example) that aren’t available to the public. They are stored alongside documents that are available, such as dissertations. To keep everything secure, only the employees could go back among the books. The patrons would wait at a desk in one of the glass rooms until the document was brought out to them.
I opened my laptop in the reception area, logged into the Princeton library account I had created days before, and requested Goffman’s dissertation. The student helping me looked over my shoulder and asked, “Goffman?” Puzzled, I asked her if she was familiar with the dissertation. “No,” she said quickly, “I just know that this is something you need to be here, in person, to get. That’s why I recognize it.”
She gave me a key to one of the lockers lined up in a small closet behind reception. I had to put everything in my locker, including my cell phone as long as it had a camera on it (does anyone walking around in the world today have a cell phone without a camera?). Could I take my laptop in? She nodded. But not my backpack? She shook her head. I did as I was told and passed through the double doors to wait quietly at my assigned desk, which happened to be directly in front of the reception desk with only the thin glass wall separating us. I signed a form
promising not to take any digital photography, photocopy, or scan the document I was about to receive. After a few minutes, a long-haired man plopped a thick black book in front of me. “Sign this.” He slid a long slip of paper toward me. It looked like it was made of the sticker paper airlines use to print out baggage information and attach it to luggage. It had my name, the date, and identifying information for the book printed on it. There was a space for me to sign, acknowledging receipt of the document. After I signed, the long-haired man took the form-sticker away and left me to my work.
At first, I was a little uncomfortable sitting directly across from the reception desk. After all of the security measures taken, I feared (irrationally) that someone could walk over to me, see that I was copying certain passages of the dissertation verbatim into my notes, and throw me out. Of course, copying down passages into my notes was not prohibited, and no one was looking over my shoulder to monitor my work. I relaxed a bit, took off my light denim jacket, and sat up straighter in my chair.
Within seconds, a smiling student from reception swooped down on me. I had to keep my jacket on at all times; if it came off I must walk by reception and put it in my locker. I couldn’t stop myself from asking why. Because, she explained, I would be surprised. People try to steal things from here all the time. They use their jackets as a cover. It’s policy now.
I glanced down at the thick, 8 ½ x 11 hardcover volume sitting unopened in front of me, then back up to her. She reminded me politely that it was policy. I got up to put the jacket in my locker. She smiled.
All in all, I think this is pretty funny. I have faced less demanding security from the National Archives when obtaining nineteenth century presidential correspondence about the Fugitive Slave Act.