PRINCETON — Every year, more than a thousand Princeton University students spend the last months before graduation slaving away on a senior thesis. Mudd Manuscript Library — known as "The Vault" — contains the theses of Michelle Obama, Brooke Shields, Ralph Nader, Bill Bradley, Tom Kean, David Duchovny, Sonia Sotomayor, Samuel Alito and more.
After graduation, each paper is cataloged and filed on a shelf in the bowels of the campus library, where it is usually never touched again. About 1,000 theses are pulled from the shelves and read each year, mostly by Princeton students shopping for a topic for their own papers, school officials say.
Campus officials said other missing theses may simply have been "misshelved" — lost somewhere inside the miles of shelving inside the vast manuscript library.
Linke is currently hunting for former governor Brendan Byrne’s 1949 senior thesis, "Proportional Representation in Municipal Government," which recently went missing."I believe it is simply misshelved, since we know it was in the building a few years ago," Linke said.
Brendan Thomas Byrne Jr., son of then-governor Brendan Byrne, similarly used his family connections to write "The Backroom Boys," his thesis on political patronage and backroom deals in New Jersey politics.
More coverage: • After restricting access, Princeton University releases Michelle Obama's thesis• U. Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan's writings, views while at Princeton to be examined• U. Supreme Court pick Elena Kagan is a graduate from Princeton University• Princeton University graduate program admissions are on the rise The 1976 paper, in which the younger Byrne quotes many current and former political figures, includes a letter from his attorney forbidding anyone to copy the thesis without the author’s permission.In order to meet the needs of all, policies and procedures must be instituted that allow for effective and equitable service to all users.Requests for any type of digitization are evaluated by staff and approved based on material format, physical condition and any applicable restrictions.Linke, the university archivist, says many people come to the library to study decades-old theses for clues about the author’s true beliefs and personality."How much do these really reflect a person’s mind-set 20 years later? Princeton began requiring all undergraduates to write a senior thesis nearly 85 years ago.Students work one-on-one with a faculty member to develop their ideas. Manuscript Library offers a variety of digitization services which vary by type of material and product needed.Princeton University and the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections value providing access to the materials that we steward both in person and via our digitization services.Many aspiring teachers will read Kopp’s thesis before applying for the highly competitive program. For those who can’t get to the university, the library offers to send photocopies by mail, for a fee.But most of the theses can be read for free in the reading room of Mudd Library, at wood desks under brass reading lamps.Nearly 300 theses have gone missing over the years, Princeton officials said.Most disappeared decades ago, when the theses were kept in the open stacks at the main campus library. Bush nominated Samuel Alito, a 1972 Princeton graduate, to the Supreme Court, library officials were horrified to find Alito’s thesis was among the missing.