In which your narrator packs lots of boxes.

2012 July 19
Loading oranges into refrigerator car at a co-op orange packing plant (LOC)

Jack Delano (FSA/OWI), “Loading oranges into refrigerator car at a co-op orange packing plant,” c. 1939.

From the depths of my packing for relocation to Miami, I bring you some questions about the scholarly journal in the age of digital reading.

As I go through my bookshelves, I’m confronting an amazing number of issues of scholarly journals that I subscribe to, in paper, and have never had time to read. Even though some of them offer online-only subscriptions, I’ve been partial to receiving the paper journals. There’s utility in an object: it hangs around my house/office, reminding me that I can find out about really fascinating new research if I just take the time to open the journal.

But have I actually made time for reading them? Regrettably, no.

Even so, when I start going through the issues, I see at least one item that I think, “Oh, I really want to read that, and this object reminds me that I want to read it.” PDFs on a laptop just don’t have the same physical-reminder value. So I’m having trouble deaccessioning my journals off to the great departmental book-giveaway shelf. I know I can always look up the articles online, but there’s still something seductive about having an unbroken run of a major journal sitting on the shelf.1

Until one finds oneself packing boxes.

So, I’d love your comments on any of the following:

  • What do you (personally) do with back issues of scholarly journals, now that you know that you’ll be able to find that article online?
  • If you’re a member of a scholarly society that offers an online-only option for its journal, do you prefer that option? Why or why not?

And, more relevant questions for my future, hopefully less-pack-ratty self:

  • What do you (personally) do to keep up with newly published articles in your historical fields or areas of interest?
  • What strategies do you use for making sure you don’t get behind?
  • How do you (personally) take notes on your ongoing scholarly reading when you’re not doing it for a particular research project?

I and my aching lower back thank you.

  1. Back-issues of certain subfield journals, like GLQ and Law & History Review, rarely tempt me to weed them from my collection. Topic-focused special issues on things I care about, likewise. Editors, take note.
3 Responses
  1. July 19, 2012

    Good luck with the move! After staying in the same office for fifteen years, I moved twice in three years, so I got used to letting go my paper journals. Now I keep two years of back issues for any paper journals I still receive. That gets me over any online embargo but, after that, they’re culled except for journals in which I have a publication!

    I subscribe to alerts for two dozen journals so I get an email when a new issue appears. Then I go to the table of contents, check what’s new and, if I find something that I want to read, I download a copy to my To Be Read folder (which syncs up with my ereader) and, more recently, I’ve added the citation to Zotero as soon as I see them. Between the two, I’m not only finding what I want and keeping track of the scholarship, but I’m getting articles read!

  2. July 20, 2012

    I used to save them, now I chuck them once the embargo is over. I just don’t have the space.

  3. Edward O'Neill permalink
    March 19, 2014

    I moved 3,00 miles recently.

    I had a 15 boxes of files. These were mostly photocopies of “hard-to-find” articles and “obscure” books.

    I did some searching: 99% are now online.

    The books I had mostly bought in the meantime, save a few oddments.

    I recycled down to five boxes (which were letters and personal journals).

    Physical copies of journals I recycled. (All online or material since published elsewhere.)

    And my introductory grad school books–the one everyone *must* have read–I donated. I read them. I know them. If I want to reference them, there are libraries and Google Books and Amazon Search Inside….

    Everything you keep now? 95% you will discard later.

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