Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Ordered Chaos: The Never-Ending Paper Chase of a Library Director

Not my actual office. although it feels that way. (Source.)
Before I became one myself, I worked for three different library directors. Each one of them had piles of paper all over their offices, and the man who was the director of the library where I coordinated the instruction program (my immediate past library) was the worst. In fact, I made fun of him on a semi-regular basis because of the state of his office.

I want to take a moment to put this on the official record, for everyone on the web to possibly read: I formally apologize for every instance of teasing to which I ever subjected him.

Why the sudden turn around, only a month and a half into my own time as a library director? Because I already have piles of paper all over my office. There's a stack of books that were donated by a faculty member and another pile of books that were donated by a member of our staff. There's a small pile of articles I want to read and a large-ish pile of catalogs I have to go through. Then there's my official in box, which has - more than once - escaped its bounds to take over my desk. The worst part isn't that there are piles, it's how much of my office, my very small office, is taken up with these piles.

So, how do I plan to deal with this? To be honest, I'm not quite sure. There's a lot of work I need to do, and I'm not even done with planning to plan. I know I need to feel better situated in my space and I know I need to get back to my old habit of carving out two hours every Friday afternoon just for getting caught up to myself. I also know that I've turned a corner and am adding less to the piles than I'm subtracting. Beyond that, though, I'm still figuring this out.

By the way, I should have suspected something when my last director jokingly said, the last time I made fun of the disarray in his office, that he was willing to bet that my office at my new library would be just as bad given time. He was right. He was so, so right.

Anyway, how about you? How do you keep the piles from encroaching?


  1. I, too, have to make that time slot on Fridays to clean out the desk inbox from its rapidly breeding papers. Of course, behind me I have a bookshelf and a lateral file which are full of papers, catalogs, files and other ephemera "to get to eventually". It never ends!

  2. I find that as a devotee of the "a place for everything and everything in its place" motto, effective storage/office organizers and filing practices are key.

    Regarding the donations, our library keeps those in tech services, so if you are able to delegate the storage of these items to tech, that would definitely keep them out of your office! If there isn't a gift policy in place, it might be the time to investigate what sort of items the library will accept/how long do we store (can? we store), etc. If you can't get them to tech services, storing them in a dedicated area on an office bookshelf would be ideal I'd think.

    When it comes to small spaces and storage, going vertical is key. If you could get phys. plant to install some of the (admittedly ugly) wall bracket shelving, you could afford yourself an entire wall full of shelves that way! For filing, though, I live for my stacked wire organizer that holds five or so manila folders. They're all designated with labels like "to file", "things to ask about" "to photocopy", etc. Basically I break down my workflow and see where items pile up the most, and then turn that area into a designated vertically held folder. Like a 3D to-do list!

    Catalogs and other mailings that need stored go in designated magazine boxes on my bookshelf-- I pop them in there straight from my mailbox, unless I need to look at them immediately.

    As for your inbox, if you amass that much, maybe you could create an entire wire file organizer as your 'inbox' break down the types of stuff that shows up in your inbox. So you could label folders with stuff like "urgent" "employees" "hiring" "administrative" "professional development", "committee work" "university" "needs approval" etc. Being able to pop papers directly into their sub-genre folder can keep your 'inbox' looking much cleaner and less intimidating. Depending on the institutional culture, is it possible that you could start requesting people e-mail you things more often?

    For professional development reading, I generally try to store the articles I want to read either in a folder on my desktop, in my Evernote account (or zotero or however you roll). If you're dedicated to paper, try keeping your stack of papers in a slot in one of those 3-layer plastic desk organizers or something similar.

    If you get a lot of things via paper that you feel you should save but end up shoving the paper into a stack somewhere, why not consider (if money is available) investing in a small paper scanner? I use a ScanSnap that lets me feed things either into my computer or Evernote account and it's been great for scanning documentation, conference materials, and other stuff I want to save but *don't* want cluttering up my paper files.

    3-ring binders are also a thought-- if you can either hole punch or get 3-ring folders to insert, you can organize papers that way and label the binders. Mine sit on my desk, but I only have 2.

    In the end, most of this comes down to 'processing' everything that comes into my office the moment it comes into my office. Takes 10 minutes or less to file everything where it should go, saves a TON of headache later. If I need a reminder to check something that I've appropriately filed away/put on a bookshelf, I add it to my to-do list, or stick a "check on X!" in my paper calendar on a certain date.

    But I'm glad you're wanting to tackle this early into your new office life because it gets nearly impossible to tackle 5 years down the road. :D Good luck!

  3. Oh if only I knew how!!

  4. Here's one tip I've used for years with good effects. It may relieve some of your paper chase. "Mason's Rule of the In-Box" - I once had a commander who declared that items would reside in his In-Box for a maximum of two weeks. If after that time he had not received a phone call or follow up inquiry of some kind, it went into the round file - trash. He had determined over his career that if something was really important and worth his time, it would be followed up by somebody at some level. If not, it wasn't worth his time.