You know those films you see where the author loses their manuscript? They only have one laboriously typed copy. They haven’t got to the photo-copier yet. Nooooooo… it blows away in a freak storm … Or, they’ve written in longhand in notebooks and an evil stranger happens on them and steals them and then they publish them as their own work… or the computer gets destroyed in a freak tornado…. Or… Or… The list of possible disasters is endless.
Welcome to my nightmare.
I did my PhD in the days of floppy discs. I was so paranoid about losing my text that I had several sets of discs stashed around the house and at work. Like a greedy and irrational squirrel, I also kept various versions – whole text, chapter by chapter, text file, word file. I even went so far as to buy a fireproof safe drawer, just in case.
I’ve got more slightly more casual about texts in subsequent years. But I still manage to make at least three copies of everything on top of the usual automated computer back-up. These days I use cloud storage as well as an external hard and a thumb drive. The reduction in size of storage gadgetry and the development of digital online repositories means that all those endangered materials are transportable as well as retrievable, even if the ownership of the cloud based materials is pretty questionable.
The thing that I am NOW most paranoid about is my Endnote library. I’ve been using Endnote since 1997, and now have over 9000 references stored in it. About half of these are properly key-worded with abstracts. I’m at the point where Endnote is a kind of cerebral prosthesis – an outside memory of my reading on which I’m as dependent as I am on my actual ‘inside’ memory. In fact, I now operate as if I have both an external and internal reference system. I often find myself saying to people – “I can’t remember what this book was, my internal Endnote is not completely reliable, I’ll have to look it up”. Even though my actual reference library and I are not really physically joined, I still feel like a bibliographic cyborg. So the very worst thing I can now imagine is that something happens to this record of my academic reading.
I am also worried about losing books. I rarely use my university library for anything but journals. It often doesn’t have what I want because my choices of books are too esoteric, or their budget is too stretched. And if they do purchase something I want, then there is usually a giant waiting list. A long time ago I decided that one of the things I needed was a professional library and so I’ve always bought the key texts that I needed, as well as books that I am interested in. Being of a somewhat interdisciplinary inclination, this means I now have a pretty eclectic – and large – collection spread between home and work.
However, I’m also paranoid about these books. I lend them to people and then some of them don’t come back. I often fight with myself about whether to keep lending them out or to just keep them for myself – all mine, all mine precious. So far, I’m still lending, but in concert with a mental ledger. I’ll lend you my books until the point at which you don’t bring one back. Then, no more. But when I moved to the UK, my books came in a big container, a tin can on the sea, and I did get along without them. In fact, there are many of them still in their boxes some ten years later, proving that I didn’t need them at all.
But I did bring my Endnote and text files in my personal luggage.
It turns out I’m really most paranoid about losing my writing, and my virtual library, the basis of my academic work. I can’t imagine recovering from losing these, although I dare say I would if it ever came to it.
But what about you? What of your academic work are you most paranoid about losing and how do you go about making sure that this doesn’t happen?