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May 14, 2008

Drowning in Paper

Stacks of paper.jpg

For the past few weeks, I've been doing my level best to divest myself of some of the mountains of paper I have gathered around myself. When the moving company estimated that I might have as much as 6000-7000 lbs. of books and files at my office alone, that did it! I have been recycling, tossing, and shredding as fast as I can. It's really hard. Each piece of paper evokes memories -- overwhelmingly good ones -- of projects, classes, collaborations, papers, and the stuff of the academic life. But some things I brought with me from Texas 18 years ago haven't been opened since then, so they were definitely candidates for chucking. (Although today I found a letter from my dissertation advisor, written (in hand) while she was on sabbatical in California. - It did go to the shredder, but I enjoyed re-reading it.)

I am within 2 or 3 boxes of completing the packing of my office and lab. When I moved here, I brought 101 boxes of books, journals, and files from my old office to the new office. My goal is to take fewer than 101 away from here. That would mean 18 years of work and no net increase in "stuff." (Fortunately, much of it is electronic and can fit on a few CDs. Is that cheating??) With a little luck, I'll come in under 101.

Man & paper.jpg

Information retrieval continues to be one of the biggest challenges of the academic life. So many books, journals, files, CD-ROMs, reprints, e-mails, etc. Figuring out the ideal organizational system has eluded pretty much every academic I know. Although I was inspired to read an interview with one of the Google guys about the problem of information. Interestingly, his solution was to avoid systematizing stuff at all on the front end. He suggested instead to put the focus on powerful retrieval engines that can scan through stuff and pull up what you want. I will be trying that in my new life. Nothing like a new job to provide an opportunity for cleaning house and a fresh start. The moving van comes in a week.

Posted by hgroteva at May 14, 2008 9:22 PM | Moving