How do I search and find non-electronic papers!
March 10, 2009 9:48 AM   Subscribe

How do you search and find academic papers that are in a filing cabinet?

I am looking for something that runs on a mac (similar to endnote but better) that I can use to keep track of and search the academic papers I have stored in a filing cabinet in my office. For pdf's I use spotlight to search and skim to anotate but I no longer have any system to deal with papers that I only have in hard copy. Does anyone have any suggestions? How do other people do this?
posted by kechi to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Get them out of the filing cabinet and use Papers: Your Personal Library of Science! It's exactly as you say: similar to endnote but better. Ideally, you should be scanning these papers in and making PDFs out of them (the SnapScan scanners are good for this purpose), but you can also use it to manage citations only (use the notes field to denote the physical location of the paper in your cabinet).

(No relation to the Papers people, just a huge fan)
posted by zachlipton at 9:55 AM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding Papers. As a grad student, it has quite literally changed my life.
posted by peacheater at 9:58 AM on March 10, 2009

Our copier has an integrated scanner/PDF generator. If you have access to one that's similar, it would only be a few hour's work to digitize them.

If that's not an option, spend a day creating a text file (or spreadsheet) with author, title, journal and some keywords for each paper. Then, store the papers in alphabetical order by first author. At least your index will be searchable.
posted by chrisamiller at 9:59 AM on March 10, 2009

I would use bibdesk for this, and use the annote function (or maybe make a custom field) for storing this information. The benefit is that it can also organize PDFs and do thing like tagging, for you as well, and if you ever start using LaTeX, it directly uses the bibtex format. It is a really great program even if you don't use LaTeX. In practice I just keep my hard-copy papers alphabetized by author, try to remember what I have in hard copy and what I don't, and add PDFs to my bibdesk database at any chance I get.
posted by advil at 10:00 AM on March 10, 2009

The only system that works for filing hard copy papers is to do it alphabetically by author. Keep any other sort of index to your printed papers on your computer. Do not attempt to construct a subject-based classification of papers. It will not work. You have been warned.
posted by grouse at 10:05 AM on March 10, 2009 [4 favorites]

Scan them to PDF and then use DevonThink. The proportion of DevonThink's userbase that is academic/scientific is unusually large. This is exactly what DT is designed for.
posted by webhund at 10:11 AM on March 10, 2009

I also use Papers and adore it. I have some older articles still in files, things that were not available online at the time I needed them. I still haven't scanned them in but I use Papers to keep track of their citation information (including keywords, and sometimes abstract if that was available online).

Every now and then when I'm searching my Papers it will bring up as meeting my criteria one of these articles. I let Papers try to find an online copy, and it's frequently able to (the back issues stored on JSTOR are massive now). Otherwise, they're stored alphabetically by author in the filing cabinet so it's easy to find them.
posted by hydropsyche at 10:25 AM on March 10, 2009

I would also recommend Papers. Even if you don't have an electronic copy of an article, you can still download the abstract or citation and store it in papers. From there Papers can create "smart folders" (like iTunes "smart playlists") where all papers with a specific keyword will appear in that folder, and you also have the option of creating manual folders. A Papers paper can be in multiple folders, just like a song can be in multiple playlists, but perhaps for your own organization the Papers electronic folder can equal a folder in your filing cabinet.

I personally don't sort my papers alphabetically by author (it is a semi-topical, semi-messy system where I manage to find most things), but my advisor sorts alphabetically by research group. Also, if I had a better way to scan multi-page articles I would, since it is always annoying to lose something that is not available electronically.
posted by sararah at 11:35 AM on March 10, 2009

Also in Papers you can export the list of citations in a particular folder (or your whole library for that matter) into a file readable by EndNote (and other bibliography software). Papers also has a little bibliography tool that works with Word '08, although I have not messed with it much. So what I'm trying to say here is that Papers is awesome :)
posted by sararah at 11:38 AM on March 10, 2009

I put everything in EndNote. EndNote assigns everything a reference number. I file all my papers in folders, based on reference number. Papers go 10 at a time, into folders, with 3 file folders inside each hanging file to keep the size manageable. When I have PDFs, I file a printed copy, then for the actual PDF I use the reference number as a name and attach them to the EndNote reference, which causes EndNote to place the PDF in a folder in my library.

By downloading the references from PubMed or the like, EndNote archives the abstracts, authors, keywords, etc, leaving me with a searchable database. Most of my articles are also present on my hard drive as PDFs, but the ones that are simply hard copies are still in my file cabinet (along with printed versions of the PDFs). It's a bit of a pain to reorganize your library the first time, but it saves me a lot of effort when I am looking for a specific paper (I know EXACTLY where #436 ought to be filed!) and I also don't have to put any thought into where the "correct" place to file something is. Prior to adopting this method, every paper had to be defined in some way - is it a methods paper? Should it be filed with Topic A, or Topic B, when it pertains to both? No more worries there! Plus, everything is ready to be used when writing, because it's all in EndNote.

Caveats to this method:
1. Some people make a new EndNote library for every paper they write. I have one library containing everything. If you have multiples, my method doesn't work.
2. EndNote never reuses reference numbers within a library; this means anything you've added and then deleted leaves empty spaces in your numbers. I have some folders with only one or two papers present because of deleted references.
3. Endnote is more expensive than Papers. If you already have EndNote, you're set. If not, Papers is significantly cheaper.
posted by caution live frogs at 11:40 AM on March 10, 2009

Papers is superb. Also, students qualify for an additional 40% off the price. The only shortcoming that constantly drives me up the wall is that is doesn't support in-text annotations or document highlighting. The developers have already stated this is slated for a future version, but it's something I've been waiting on for ten months. It's still an app I live by and love.

It indexes everything you need, is searchable, will extract all the relevant data from JSTOR, Google Sholar, PubMed, etc. And even better, all of those are built in to the the application itself. The only thing that would make it better is if they supported LexisNexis, but, eh, I can dream.

Also, use the ScanSnap (the world's best document scanner ever), to digitize papers that aren't available online but you would like to archive.
posted by cgomez at 1:02 PM on March 10, 2009

Nthing a snapscan and DEVONthink.
posted by Brian Puccio at 3:29 PM on March 10, 2009

Response by poster: Thank all! I've decided to give paper's a try! Is there an easy way to make sure that all the pdf's I already have on my computer get uploaded into papers with the correct citation information so that I don't have to edit the citation information by hand?
posted by kechi at 10:33 AM on March 11, 2009

A lot of them will contain a code (DOI) that will allow Papers to fill in the citation. For those that don't, Papers has a "match" function that lets you quickly search for your paper in a database and then click on the correct citation and it will import all of the correct information. That has been one of my favorite parts about Papers--never have to type in citation info again.
posted by hydropsyche at 12:31 PM on March 11, 2009

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