Monday afternoon, after a particularly brutal, yet uneventful day, a large stack of papers fell from my desk to the floor. My organizational system of piles was faltering.
Hello, my name is Heather, and I am a piler. I have piles at work, and piles at home. I know exactly what is in each pile, (ahem, almost) and approximately how old each pile is. For the most part, this organization (or lack thereof) works for me. It doesn’t always work for those around me.
I can pull out a half finished report when my boss requests it, and I can usually find a bank statement or sweater I wore last week when I’m at home. I rely on my memory to trigger a mental to do list of unfinished tasks, which usually works. As long as my memory stays sharp, I’ll be fine, right?
I wish I could be a member of the inbox  zero  crowd. I’ve tried Google  tasks ,  and Workflowy , and even corkboard , but when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I pull out a clean sheet of paper, clip it to an old fashioned clipboard, and start writing a list. I often create piles because I don’t know what to keep and what to destroy or recycle. When in doubt, I keep it.
So how does this apply to academic records? As record keeper, the registrar’s job is to make sure the institution can recreate a student record. Forever. In my current position, our records go back to the late 1800s, and we do get requests for very old records. We recently received a request for a record of a student who graduated in 1908. Beyond the transcript, what to keep and what to shred gets a little more complicated. AACRAO has extensive guidelines in AACRAO's Retention of Records: Guide for Retention and Disposal of Student Records 2010 Update.
As much as I love the advantages of digital records, there is an enduring quality of paper and ink which is invaluable. Just as books written on vellum last much longer than those published in the first half of the 20th century, I think some types of paper records will outlast the digital ones (remember the 5” floppy disk?). But I don’t want to print out endless reports and emails just to have a hard copy.
This is not a new topic, and there are many innovations being made in digital records. From organization to preservation to archiving, how we keep and store records is only complicated by technology. The question then becomes the basic question of archiving: how do we know what will be valuable in the future in order to preserve it? And can we find it amongst the piles of data accumulating each day?
What are your strategies for personal organization and archiving? Are there any online organization products you can’t live without?
New Haven, Connecticut in the USA
Heather Alderfer is one of the founding members of the editorial collective at University of Venus  and is an Associate Registrar at Yale Law School.