March 13, 2008

Academic nerdiness

As an academic in the humanities, a great deal of my research involves tracking down 20-50 page papers published in professional journals. When I was an undergrad, this was mostly a two-step process: First, EBSCOhost and other such search engines would give you matches based on author and title names; occasionally it would also have an abstract, so you could tell whether or not it was worthwhile. Second, you would stalk through the periodicals section of the library, three-page list of citations in hand, tracking down the library's archive copies of all those journals.

By the time I got to Notre Dame, those two steps had been combined. I rarely have to go track down a physical copy of a journal to read an article -- academic search engines now include links directly to electronic archives, and I can typically read or download a PDF of the desired article within about 30 seconds. In preparing the list for my oral exam, I've had to request a handful of articles that were only published in books, one or two published in articles to which my library did not happen to have a subscription, and only one where I had to go down to the basement to get the physical copy of the journal (because the electronic version was of the wrong article).

So today my research consists largely of downloading 5-12 PDFs, skimming them for relevance, and arranging most of them into various folders and subfolders depending on which project they're relevant to. As a result, I have approximately 300 PDFs in various places on my computer. (Think about that for a second: on the order of a 10,000-page library right on my laptop. Thirty years ago, that would have required a small but very, very strudy trunk to transport. Today it all fits very comfortably in my backpack.)

This creates an archiving problem. Obviously many (most) of the projects I work on are closely related. And it would be nice to be able to be able to easily search through and arrange and re-arrange all those documents on the fly. Which is why I was really, really excited when I discovered links to Papers and iPapers.

And then really, really disappointed when I realised they're only for Macs. I guess this means I need to break down and finally buy my new laptop.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I downloaded Papers, and have been playing around with it for a day, adding my medical articles to it. I think it's fantastic. I didn't realize how much I had been missing a way to keep this crap organized until you posted the link. Thanks Dan!