Sunday, January 11, 2009

Archives and fresh starts

Mel's post on archiving and cleaning out old letters (with a link to Flavia's post) struck a chord.  Yesterday I was on a cleaning out rampage, and a lot got thrown away.

What got thrown away (or put in the recycling bin) are things like empty spice jars and a couple of broken colanders.  What is still sitting in the garage and in my filing cabinets taking up space is the detritus--or should I say impedimenta?-- of academic teaching and service: notes from meetings, final exams from classes that have long since graduated, and reports on long-dead issues that have since either been resolved by policy changes, or, in the usual course of things, left to gather dust.  In any case, none of this is material that needs to be saved.  

I've gone through a few of these boxes and have gotten rid of some things.  About twice per box, I'll come across a teaching exercise that I had developed and forgotten about that could still be useful.  The rest of it is just paper, and it gets dealt with accordingly:

1.  Anything with student numbers on it gets shredded.
2. Anything printed on one side that won't wreck a printer gets put into a pile for draft printing.
3. Everything else, including anything with a staple in it, gets tossed.  

What isn't clear is why I kept a lot of this stuff in the first place. Documentation in case anyone ever wanted to know what a committee said in Section V, subsection 3 of a report? Backup in case a disgruntled student came back 10 years later and wanted to know why he got an 88 instead of 90 on his final exam?  Teaching notes in case all the computers on which I'd stored ecopies (office and home) went up in flames at once?  This last one is particularly puzzling, since I try to reinvent the teaching each time I teach a course anyway. 

The only good side to this is that the flip side of the impulse to archive is an impulse to get rid of things, for there can't be an archive without selection, can there?  As the semester begins, that impulse to get rid of things takes over. It gives the filing cabinets some breathing space, anyway, and us a fresh start.

What I'm wondering is how much of this kind of stuff is what academics usually keep and how much of it is extra.  What do you end up keeping--class notes? Papers that students don't pick up? Meeting minutes? Old photocopies of articles? Any of it? Or have you gone entirely electronic with these?


Mel said...

I'll be interested to read the answers to your questions -- as I am now on the academic side of my filing system, purging several years' worth of stuff. There's a lot that I think we (I) used to keep, that because of technology we really don't need to. For me, the most puzzling thing I've found are all the paper copies of old drafts of articles/chapters/papers. I print out a draft, edit it by hand, then input it to a new electronic version. There's no need to keep the paper copy beyond that moment. But for some odd reason I did. yikes.

Anonymous said...

I keep paper copies of the final version of anything I've written. Anything, including class notes. You never know. I purge paper copies of things you can now get in JSTOR and the like.

undine said...

Mel, I used to save drafts like that, too, and once one of them saved me: there was a section in a paper that I'd discarded, but it worked really well in the final version. Cero, I absolutely print out final versions of papers. At least three times I've entirely lost conference papers or article drafts due to computer crashes or whatever and had only the paper version to go on.

undine said...

P. S. Mel, btw, I have become a complete and passionate convert to NitroPDF since you mentioned it and now prefer to read articles that way.