I have a vision of my future. This vision was brought on by the “forced spring cleaning” of getting our offices painted in Manning Hall. Yes, the entire interior of The True Manning is being painted. We won’t get a new building any time soon, but at least the one we’re in will be made nicer. Progress.

This painting is going to start soon… and by soon, I mean, apparently, next week. So we’re kind of under the gun here, since all horizontal surfaces in offices need to be cleaned off before painting starts. I’m a little miffed that the painters can’t wait for the end of the semester to start this work. Grading, or cleaning my office? I guess I know which I’ll be doing more of in the short term. But, given the choice, I’d rather have my office painted, so I shall just suck it up.

My first office-cleaning decision was to take a hard line with myself on purging paper. I have a lot of printouts of webpages and other online documents… mostly dating from the late 1980s and early to mid-1990s. So you don’t think I’m a total idiot — printing webpages, what is he thinking? — bear in mind that we didn’t really have much in the way of archival thinking about online documents in those dark days. But anyway. For printouts, if I can find a version of a document online, it goes in the recycling bin. If the document still looks interesting to me, after all this time, it goes in Delicious or Zotero, depending on what I foresee doing with it. I’ve found a bunch of documents from the EFF’s archive that I printed out back in the day, mostly interviews with William Gibson. You’ve got to love the EFF, those are still on their site, even though when I printed them out, the EFF’s site was an FTP server. Those are going in Delicious. I’ve also found a bunch of printed journal articles — pieces from early volumes of D-Lib, printouts from various databases that went full-text early on. Those are going in Zotero. I’m not sure yet what to do if there are annotations on the articles. I plan to save those and deal with them later. But they’ll still go in Zotero eventually, and eventually I’ll purge the paper. Maybe I’ll move the notes into Zotero? Maybe I’ll scan the articles & save them as PDFs? Maybe I’ll force myself to not care about the annotations, since they were probably from projects I did a decade ago? Probably some combination of all of the above.

But what about stuff that doesn’t exist online? I have a bunch of photocopies of book chapters, reports, etc. Those I will turn into PDFs, thanks to our cool office photocopier, which doubles as a scanner. I’ll use Acrobat to OCR the documents it can. And the paper goes in the recycling. This all will also have the happy side-effect of improving the discoverability of these documents in my personal information space. Full-text indexing FTW.

I need to do this for the stuff on my desk surface, and soon. But I also have a file cabinet full of paper that I hardly ever open, that mocks me whenever I turn to face it. Next step: the stuff contained in there.

What a mind-numbingly boring task all of this will be. Maybe I’ll ask for an undergrad for my GA next year. I would feel guilty giving a Masters student such scut work, but oddly enough I’d feel less guilty about laying all of that on an undergrad.

My vision is to not merely purge my desk of paper, but my entire office. Books can stay. But anything on printer paper is gone daddy gone. And I want to achieve a new equilibrium, at which, when I get a new paper document in, I can rid myself of it rapidly and sensibly. I want for any paper that persists in my space to not be my doing: university or School paperwork, etc. Basically, I want the paperless office. Is that so much to ask?