Recently I posted a question asking if anyone could provide information on a paper(for which I furnished a full cite), as the paper seemed not to be available on sites that I knew to check (and some that I wouldn't normally check).

An experienced ME member commented that the question was better addressed to "the librarian," because that person would have better access than anyone one this site to the information.

I took this at face value, and replied that I would take the question down. Well, and so I will, although I am wondering now whether I shouldn't leave it up in case I can furnish the answer myself (someone else might have the same question), and also whether the question really transcends the rubric "reference request." It is not really a request for a reference, but a question about access to a known reference.

It did not occur to me the question would be inappropriate, since there are researchers who frequent this site who might know offhand, "Ah yes, it's posted at Professor X's blog," etc.

So I guess my threshold question is about the propriety of the question. Assuming it is not appropriate (or borderline?), would it nonetheless be marginally useful to leave it up and post an answer when I do get one?

I am not linking the post because I do expect to take the question down, and the question here is general.

Thank you.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think the question is inappropriate, but I do think the comment referring you to the libraries is a good one. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 25, 2012 at 0:06

1 Answer 1


I think "try asking the librarian" is a perfectly fine answer to an appropriate question. Just because this is the right answer doesn't mean the question itself was inappropriate, any more than a question becomes inappropriate if the right answer is, say, "try multiplying through by the conjugate".

Getting an answer that allows you to make progress is no reason to delete your question!

One might argue that requests for help locating particular items in the literature is not itself a "mathematical" question (independently of what its answer is), but I don't personally think our scope should necessarily be that narrow. A priori it might have been the case that there was a good website specifically for locating copies of old mathematics articles, and then it certainly would have made sense to have it recommended here. It is untenable to judge the propriety of the question by which correct answers it has -- that would make it impossible for askers to figure out whether to ask or not.

  • $\begingroup$ I am a little surprised not to hear anything from those who felt the question should be closed. That is why I am waiting to accept Henning Makholm's answer. Clearly several felt that as a matter of policy this question was not appropriate, but I haven't seen the argument. As a practical matter, who would post a question (or fail to delete it) knowing it would be closed? $\endgroup$
    – daniel
    Commented Aug 25, 2012 at 17:19
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    $\begingroup$ Acceptance on meta is a fairly meaningless gesture anyway. If we're trying to home in on some approximation of community consensus about something, then it's not especially important which of the answers the original asker happens to prefer. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 25, 2012 at 17:27
  • $\begingroup$ See: math.stackexchange.com/questions/192318/… $\endgroup$
    – daniel
    Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 13:30

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