What’s Your Reference Question?

November 9, 2010 at 2:34 pm 2 comments

I received this email late in the day one day in August:

“I wonder if someone could assist with finding a quote by Dr. Henry Plummer?  We need this for a presentation ASAP.  The quote begins:
“The building is a tool…..” however we don’t know the ending of the quote.  Perhaps someone in Rochester would know?  Can you help?  I searched the E-Online Aphorisms of the Mayo Brothers, but that was not the right path.  I’m not quite sure where else to begin.  Thanks for your assistance.”

These things I knew: that our print collection in Jacksonville would not yield the answer,  and that I could call my colleagues in Rochester and put them on the trail– looking through the archives in the Historical Unit or the History of Medicine Library. But, since there seemed to be some urgency to the request,  I turned to my friend Google.  In the search box, I keyed in “the building is a tool” “henry plummer”– putting quotes around these phrases tells Google to search for the exact phrase.  I got one hit:

In that article, Robert Fontaine, Chair of  Campus Planning in Jacksonville, writes: “Some of Dr. Plummer’s quotes are absolute jewels and indicate a remarkable understanding of the built environment and the elements necessary to create an efficient building. His thesis was: “Make the right way the easy way,” He believed the environment must “have a place for everything and make it look permanent as if a Scandinavian housewife had just been through [it].” He also believed

the building is a tool in the practice of medicine.
Within 12 minutes of the request I forwarded this information to the requester– and that was the quote she was looking for. However, Fontaine’s article does not cite where he got this quote from.  Do we know for a fact that Dr. Plummer said ” the building is a tool in the practice of medicine?”  Now it was time to call on my colleagues in Rochester.  I forwarded the email trail to the Historical Unit, and asked if they could verify the source.  And within 7 minutes of my request, I had  reply from Kristen Van Hoven:
The following quote is the closest we have ever been able to find relating to the quote you [inquired about].  It is about Dr. Plummer by Dr. Will:
“In connection with the construction of the building, it was pleasing to note his respect for the emotions of mankind and his recognition of the significance of emotional reactions.  Never did the white, cold marble of the mausoleum type come into the calculations.  Where marble was used, it was the warmly colored marble that would please the eye and quiet the apprehensions.  In such understanding and execution of purpose Henry Plummer was perhaps at his best.”  (Obviously the Historical Unit has had to answer this question in the past!)
When I reflect on the process of this researching this request, I know these things to be true:
1.  Google (or other search engines) are invaluable, especially in a small library where our archives or print collections are not extensive.  It is not always my first choice for finding answers, but in this case it was in the top 5.
2.  Being part of the Mayo Clinic library system enabled me to access the full-text of the article and read the quote in the context of the article.
3. Being part of the Mayo Clinic library system also enabled me to call on my colleagues to help assist me in digging deeper to find if we really can attribute the quote to Dr. Plummer.
Play “Stump the Librarian”– send us your reference question using the comments section of this post.

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  • 1. Kenneth Nollet  |  November 19, 2010 at 1:01 am

    Stump the librarian? Or, can you turn me loose in the archives?
    Dear Colleagues at Mayo Clinic Libraries:
    Somehow your regular webpage doesn’t pop up when I try to access it from Japan, so I am appealing to your blog site instead.
    I was in Rochester 1985-1998, mostly for training. The Academic Appointments office can’t find any evidence of a promotion from Instructor to Assistant Professor. Maybe I’m wrong and it never happened, but a weekly newsletter circulated among employees, in which academic appointments and promotions were announced, perhaps quarterly. Are such newsletters archived by the library? If so, I’d like to have a look when I am briefly on campus Dec 2-3. It would have been around June-July 1997 that an academic appointment to Assistant Professor would have been announced. Thank you.

  • 2. mlrethlefsen  |  November 19, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    Our archivist is looking into it and will get back to you!

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