Throw away printed PDFs?
January 27, 2011 10:31 PM   Subscribe

If you're an academic and/or grad student and you've printed out reams and reams of PDFs b/c they're easier to read that way... is it worth keeping them all, just for reference, even if they don't seem immediately applicable to your current projects? Or is an electronic copy enough and can the unwieldy stacks of paper go off to recycling without regret?
posted by shivohum to Education (27 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
the unwieldy stacks of paper can go off to recycling without regret.
posted by philip-random at 10:36 PM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Did you mark them up? I have plenty of photocopies marked up with lecture/discussion points that I would regret tossing. Otherwise, recycle away.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:36 PM on January 27, 2011

I hereby grant you permission to divest.
posted by thejoshu at 10:37 PM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

It depends. If it's something that I've read over a dozen times and annotated really heavily (because it's difficult to understand or important for a project, or something), then I'll tend to want to hold on to it. But if it's just something that I read once or twice to get a feel for results or read a particular derivation or whatever, it usually gets trashed at some point. In general, if I want to find Paper #20 that I read while I was working on Project X from several months ago, it's easier to search my hard drive or go to Google Scholar than to rifle through a bunch of papers.
posted by kagredon at 10:40 PM on January 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

as much as i try to keep all my texts and reading packets, I have never gone back to them. Advise I need to follow myself- just divest.
posted by barnacle fan at 10:47 PM on January 27, 2011

After grad school I went through my files and got rid of article printouts that I owned electronic versions of (and used my access to the school library to get electronic copies if I didn't already have them and they were available). There were a few that had important notes on them, so put those in a stack with those I did not have electronic versions for. I went through that paper stack and decided which things I might need again and which could get tossed permanently. Then I recruited a friend who had an awesome scanner at work to scan hundreds of pages of articles for me. Now my entire collection of relevant journal articles lives on my hard drive and is backed up in the cloud.

I had also taken the time, as part of my dissertation procrastination, to create an index of all the articles I had, so now I can either go to my hard drive and search the file name for a relevant author or just look in my index document to see if I have that particular article on hand. That was probably the most productive way I've ever procrastinated.
posted by Fuego at 11:11 PM on January 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Electronic. Throw everything else out. Papers are useless without a filing system of some sort, and it's just so much easier to maintain an electronic filing system.
posted by painquale at 11:27 PM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

If they're blank on the back, save them for printing other pdf's. It was years before I had to buy a ream of printer paper...
posted by paindemie at 11:33 PM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Based on your last question, you are a mac user. You want to buy a copy of Papers (they have an educational discount if you're a student). It's an organizer for all those PDFs. You can directly search for and download papers into the program from most of the major databases or import the PDFs and automatically search for the metadata. Then you can search them any way you want ("show me all the papers in my library written by my adviser"), organize them into collections, export groups of them as a bibliography for insertion into various citation managers, etc... You can also keep notes in Papers and search those too. It also has a nice full-screen reading mode that may be useful in place of printing some papers, depending on your preferences.

So once everything is in Papers, just recycle the hard copies after you've read them.
posted by zachlipton at 11:33 PM on January 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

If I've annotated a printed paper heavily, I scan it in so I still have my annotations. And then I through it all away. Just make sure you back everything up really well.

When you are just starting out in your academic career, you are likely to move offices and institutions a lot, and piles of printouts is a pain in the ass for that.
posted by lollusc at 11:56 PM on January 27, 2011

I stopped printing ages ago. I keep my PDFs in Endnote (I attach the file to each citation), and keep my reading notes in the 'research notes' field of the citation. I used to read everything on my screen using Skim for annotations, but now if it's really long or if I need to focus I keep two folders in my Dropbox with copies of my current reading (one for books, one for articles) to transfer to the iPad, where I read them with iAnnotate. I eventually delete the 'current reading' folders once, you know, they're not current.

I did have reams of print outs, but I chucked them all, and did not regret a thing. I strongly recommend figuring out a workflow where you don't have to print. It's better for the environment and I find it *much* easier to stay organised with my reading.
posted by nerdfish at 12:16 AM on January 28, 2011

I only print out stuff for peer review or drafts of papers from students. Everything else, e.g. recent literature, is PDF-only. Luckily we have one to those magnificant copy machines where you can dump in a stack of paper and it will e-mail you the scanned PDF. This is great for archiving papers with handwritten notes. If only I could read my own handwriting.
posted by swordfishtrombones at 1:04 AM on January 28, 2011

If you've annotated or highlighted/underlined them, scan the paper copies back into PDF so you don't lose your work. Later you can just print them back out, notes and all, if they end up being relevant again.

I recommend using Zotero to organize your PDFs. $20/year for a gig of storage (which is a lot of PDFs) that you can access online from anywhere plus all the great citation/bibliographic management features, tagging, electronic notes, etc. Don't enter the citation information by hand, just look the paper up online again because Zotero is set up for 1-click addition of references from most academic journal article databases. Then just attach your PDF to the record.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:21 AM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Toss them. There's no need to keep stuff that isn't digital. I even go so far as to scan papers to my own collection from journals that aren't digitized so they're searchable and easily accessed.
posted by monkeymadness at 4:43 AM on January 28, 2011

I recycle. I make notes in a separate notebook, though, and I don't get rid of that. Also, if I ever need the document again, I can usually just print out the relevant pages because I've read through the whole thing once already, I just need the particular algorithm, data, etc.
posted by bluefly at 4:45 AM on January 28, 2011

Also, I second Jacqueline's recommendation of Zotero. I don't use their storage (I'll have to look into that), but, just using the free service, it also organizes any articles you find online, so you can easily find them again with citations. This information can be accessed anywhere as well!
posted by bluefly at 4:48 AM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

If they're interesting and relevant to what you are doing, keep then in the paper copy, put them in banker's boxes under a main keyword and enter then into your referencing software with that key word first.

If they're interesting and may be relevant to future work dump them and file an entry in your referencing software as above then recycle. include URL if possible. That way you can find it again with a keyword search and enough info to get to it easily.

Stuff that seemed relevant but on reading is rubbish, not at all relevant, etc, recycle.
posted by biffa at 5:00 AM on January 28, 2011

Toss it all, except for impossible-to-replace photocopies of some old book that isn't even in the university library. Anything else, use Endnote to keep track of. Think of the library and the big databases as doing your filing and storage for you -- you don't have to personally have all those articles in your grubby little hands, because the nice librarians take care of it all.
posted by Forktine at 5:08 AM on January 28, 2011

I stopped printing them out at all-- I read PDFs on my Nook (yay technology!) or on my desktop, take detailed notes with page numbers in a notebook, and then refer to my notes unless I need a direct quotation, in which case it's easy to go back and find it because of the page numbers in my notes. I write on both sides of the page in small cursive, so this might not actually save you any paper if you have big handwriting.
posted by oinopaponton at 5:13 AM on January 28, 2011

I file them alphabetically by last name of first author. I refer to old papers only occasionally, but when I do, it's nice to have, and it's nice not to have to read them on my screen or go to the printer on the other side of the building. What else am I going to do with my office filing drawer? If I ran out of space I would toss them, and last time I changed jobs I tossed them.
posted by grouse at 7:46 AM on January 28, 2011

If divesting of the physical copies altogether remains too frightening, perhaps you could keep a print out of citations so that if you lose all your digital copies you can find the papers again (well, sans any notations, of course, and assuming you will still have access to all the various databases and papers).
posted by theefixedstars at 8:38 AM on January 28, 2011

Speaking as one of those nice librarians Forktine mentions ... access to databases can evaporate at any moment depending on budgets and subscription renewals. If the journal you downloaded the PDF from is available through only one database at your library, I'd err on the side of saving a local copy that PDF. If more than one database has it, you're safer. (Mind you, there's always interlibrary loan to get a copy, but you have to be able to wait a few days to get it.)

When I was in grad school, I kept all the PDFs I'd printed out until I graduated, because I referred back to them over and over through various classes and papers, and it was very nice to be able to take notes on them and not have to stare at a computer screen for hours, and to be able to spread them out on the floor around me as an aid to making those logical connections between the information contained in each. But that's down to working style.
posted by telophase at 8:40 AM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

The university near me has a multi-page scanner, I went in and scanned in all the papers and printouts that I thought would be useful in later research or ones that I really liked. Then I used Zotero to manage them.
For new research, I've converted to a kindle and now I keep my notes on books and articles in an excel spreadsheet for each topic. This allows me to sort the notes by keyword, author, or title.
I'm not keeping a whole lot of paper now, mainly because I no longer have an office to stash all that useless crap in. Good luck ditching the paper.
posted by teleri025 at 8:45 AM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Perhaps you're not as paranoid as I am, but remember there's a not-zero chance a fire will someday destroy your entire house / office and you will lose everything that's not either in a fireproof safe or off-site. Would you be seriously set back by losing journal article X? If so, make sure it's backed up digitially, preferably off site. If not, you're probably safe to use it as scratch paper.

Get insurance for your possessions, put all the valuable heirlooms in a fireproof safe, and back up everything else, preferably automatically.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:10 AM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and if you're looking for a solution to keep track of all those PDFs, Mendeley is a very nice one (and it automatically backs up!).
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:11 AM on January 28, 2011

Mendeley is the shit and I highly recommend it. I've gone from having stacks of stuff that I have no idea what to do with, to an easily searchable, taggable collection of consistently named documents that I can easily disseminate to old-school colleagues via email or share collections with people in my research group.
posted by Lord Force Crater at 9:41 AM on January 28, 2011

Response by poster: Great, thanks for your answers, everyone! Very helpful.
posted by shivohum at 9:40 PM on January 28, 2011

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