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Ask NYPL: How Was X-Ray Invented?


Did you know you can ask NYPL librarians questions via text message? You can ask anything, from the mundane and everyday ("what are your hours?") to the perplexing riddle keeping you up at night! The Virtual Reference Team (aka Ask NYPL) offers text reference, which is a great way to receive an almost immediate answer without missing a beat. Text questions are answered quickly unless the question mystifies the expert reference librarians of Ask NYPL, but a response will always be given.

X-ray apparatus., Digital ID 1555225, New York Public Library

Recently, Ask NYPL received a text asking “How was the x-ray invented?” Here’s how we found the answer!

First, we gravitated towards books about invention. Our fingers did the walking to one of our favorites, The World of Invention, edited by Kimberley A. McGrath. We keep several books of inventions at Ask NYPL, so if one book does not have the answer, we can always try another. In this case, The World of Invention did have the answer, but this is a text and providing the answer from the book is difficult since most texting services allow for only 140 characters.

Rontgen., Digital ID 407683, New York Public LibraryKonrad Wilhelm Röntgen, professor of physicsOur next step was checking one of our favorite websites,, which is a useful reference tool for locating quick facts. We searched by typing in the keywords, “history + x-rays,” and a list of articles on x-rays was presented. Upon reviewing an article and verifying the information, the answer provided in The World of Invention was corroborated. We were able to text the answer, along with a link to the article.

Final Answer? On 8 Nov, 1895, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen (accidentally) discovered an image cast from his cathode ray generator, projected far beyond the possible range of the cathode rays (now known as an electron beam). To learn more, see the article!



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The New York Public Library

The New York Public Library uses That is sad considering they have access to this: I would have figured NYPL to have at least consulted its wealth of books to answer a reference question.

As is made clear in this

As is made clear in this blog, the librarians used a reference book to find the answer and then used (which provides the same answer as the reference book) as a means to provide a link to that answer, due to the 140 character limit of text messaging. They could not have provided the answer from the book in a text message because it would have been too long to type it all out!

I see the first person did

I see the first person did not read the article which explained everything! I am in agreement with the second person!

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