The end of this particular road

I received word from the JASIST editor last Friday that the IV in PIM paper had not been accepted for publication. It included damning comments from two Reviewers which made me conclude that it isn’t worth trying another publication. Instead, I’m publishing the paper here. At least I know that it’s a coherent piece of work, which faithfully reports a non-trivial process, and from which has emerged two novel sets of ideas – a Model of ‘Decisions associated with Personal Information Collections’ and a list of ‘Retention Criteria for Personal Information Collections’ (the latter of which has already been of use in informing my choice of books for the Electronic Bookshelf work that I embarked upon a few weeks ago). From starting out with some vague questions about the worth of hardcopy documents in an increasingly electronic age, I’ve learned a lot more about the newly emerging PIM discipline, about the professional field of Archiving, about the relationship between Document collections and Memento collections, and about why I keep the physical artefacts that I keep. It’s been a worthwhile journey.

Draft submitted to JASIST

After getting the nod from the JASIST editor that it would be worth submitting a paper, I did a quick analysis of what could be cut out of the Full Report and how many words that would save. I soon realised that to reduce it from the Full Report’s 25,000 words to the 8000 words that the JASIST author guidelines suggest are required, would completely emasculate it. So, then I started to look at some recent issues of JASIST to see what length the papers actually are, and I did find some over 19,000 words. That and the fact that the Editor’s short email back to me after scanning the Full Report  said “it might benefit from some editing/trimming/reformatting to make it conform more closely to a JASIST article”, emboldened me to just cut out the extraneous material and chance my arm on the length issue. Consequently I’ve submitted a version today that is just less than 18,000 words. I guess I’ll find out soon enough if that is acceptable or not.

The submittal process is an education in its own right via a system called ScholorOne Manuscripts which asks a variety of questions including whether one has read the Wiley Colour Charges policy which is not provided and which I couldn’t find. If it turns out that it costs to include colour photos and diagrams, mine will instantly become black and white… There was also a requirement to select keywords for the paper from a rather unfriendly and very lengthy taxonomy. The submission process culminated in requiring the download of a complete draft for review purposes; a ‘Main document’ which excludes the Figures and Tables; a file containing just the Figure and Table captions; a file containing all the Tables; and a separate file for each of the Figures. I eventually got through it all – and now I’m just keeping my fingers crossed!

Full Study Report Available

Jenny Bunn’s comments on the full draft were that she believed it was now good enough to submit to a journal but that at 24,000 words, it was probably too long and I would likely be asked to cut it down substantially. With that in mind, I decided to finalise the document as a “Full Study Report” before working on a shorter version for journal submission.

The work to finalise the Full Study Report was rather more intensive than I had envisaged. It entailed a 10 day slog working through the report from the beginning, and making adjustments to ensure it all hung together as well as correcting grammar and typos, improving and numbering the tables and figures, and making sure the references were correct. Following that, I tidied up the large results spreadsheet and in so doing found a number of minor errors which entailed further changes in the document. Eventually, the IV in PIM Full Study Report got finished about a week ago. Then I set about identifying a journal that might accept it for publication.

One of the papers referenced in the IV report was by one Steve Whittaker, a UK researcher previously at the University of Sheffield and now at the University of California, and now very prominent in the field of Personal Information Management (PIM). I was first given his name by Andrew Cox at the University of Sheffield’s Information School, so I emailed him a copy of the abstract, with a copy to Andrew Cox by way of introduction, and asked him which journals he thought would be most appropriate to submit such a paper to. His response was that HCI journals were most appropriate for PIM papers but that a) he was not sure that this was a PIM paper as such as opposed to an archiving/Library Science paper, and b) he thought it would be a stretch for HCI readers to have a one person case study. So he advised me trying the non-HCI journals.

This exchange has begun to open my eyes to an interesting issue which I think I keep on coming up against: despite my collections of job documents, mementos, photos etc. are all highly personal and therefore definitely in the PIM domain, the indexing and management techniques I use to control them are all far more structured and organised than is usually encountered in PIM; and these characteristics make people think they are not PIM collections but fall into the categories of archiving, records management or librarianship. This is an interesting insight and one which I think I shall explore further in the coming months.

Anyway, I decided to take Steve Whittaker’s advice and focus on non-HCI journals. I struck lucky with the first one I approached – JASIST – the Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology. I sent the abstract and full report in an email to the Editor and asked if she thought it would be appropriate to submit a cut down version to the journal. Her response was that she thought it would be, so I now have a major précis job to cut down the full report by a third to about 8000 words.

I must say, I have been impressed by the rapid responses I have received this week from both people I have emailed. Despite not knowing me they both responded – and the reply came within just a few hours in both cases. I’m quite sure that, like most professionals these days, their email load will be very high, so it is a testimony to their professionalism and to the power of email; and I count myself lucky that they were prepared to spend their time on my missives out of the blue.

Studies Finished! Paper Complete!

This morning I completed the IV in PIM paper – and I’m very pleased to be able to move on to something else. It’s consumed me over this last month – particularly the literature review which required much painstaking reading and analysis. Academics certainly earn their money when they write papers.

The final stage in the IV study involved analysing the reasons why 109 items in a collection of 400 mementos were retained. This exercise identified a need for the following changes to the Updated PIM Retention Criteria that emerged from the second study:

  • “Copying explicitly prevented by copyright” will be removed.
  • “ Items relating to the legality of an institution” will be removed.
  • “Executive Policy document” will be removed.
  • “Other – specify reason” will be added.
  • “Does not belong to the Owner” will be added.
  • “For easy access and showing to others” will be added.
  • “Items that the Owner wants to keep as mementos of his/her life” will be added.

The paper comes to three main conclusions:

  • The  NARS Intrinsic Value characteristics provide a useful starting point for considering the question of what originals to retain in PIM collections; but only seven of the nine IV characteristics are applicable within the PIM domain and some of those seven require adjustment to their scope and naming. Furthermore, they need to be accompanied by a further 12 additional criteria to make a comprehensive set of PIM Retention Criteria (PIMRC).
  • The set of 18 PIMRCs that emerged from this paper are unlikely to be definitive or complete, and consequently an “Other” criteria has been included as one of the 18. Nor are the PIMRCs mutually exclusive. The studies reported in the paper indicate a high occurrence of two or more criteria applying to any one item.
  • It is thought unlikely that individual Owners of PIM collections will want to apply a checklist of PIMRCs methodically, but are far more likely to use such information as background guidance. Owners who inherit or are given collections may be more inclined to use the PIMRCs particularly for their initial assessment of a collection. It is believed that knowledge about PIMRCs will assist the general ongoing research into the PIM domain.

Jenny Bunn of UCL’s Department of Information Studies has been very helpful in commenting on elements of the study and on the draft paper as it has developed; and I now await her comments on the results of the final stage, and on the Discussion and Conclusions sections. Then will come the question of whether the paper is worth putting forward to a journal and if so, which one. So this journey is not quite complete yet.

Second Study Done

The second IV in PIM study, involving the scanning of 745 items (13,500 pages), is complete. It largely confirmed the Draft PIM Retention Criteria identified in the first study with only two small changes in the wording being identified:

6. “Small publications of around A4 size or less with fixed spine bindings and/or special papers”  to be changed to “Publications with fixed spine bindings and/or special papers”

14. “Aesthetic or artistic quality” to be changed to “Aesthetic or artistic quality including photos”

This was a major milestone in the Document collection since it completed the scanning of some 32 archive boxes which was started in 1996 – a very long and arduous process. The collection now consists of an index and around 200,000 electronic files all on my laptop; and about 440 original documents (14,000 pages) retained in three filing boxes in my study. In principle I can get to any and every item in the collection very rapidly from my study desk.

The final stage of the IV in PIM study will investigate mementos – very different material from the office documents that have been investigated so far – and it is anticipated that this will provide a demanding test of the PIM Retention Criteria that have been identified to date.

First study done: Draft PIMRC here!

The first IV in PIM study of 344 retained items in a large collection of Job documents, is complete and it produced some unexpected results. It established that IV characteristics were only applicable to 71 of the items, and analysis of the reasons for retaining the other items produced a set of Draft PIM Retention Criteria (Draft PIMRC) that was rather different to that which had been anticipated. Here they are:

  1. Digitisation to be performed later
  2. Items to be put to work in their original form
  3. Items for which only the originals confirm their validity
  4. Trophy items to be collected and enjoyed in the future.
  5. Large documents which have particular qualities of impact and integrity.
  6. Small publications of around A4 size or less with fixed spine bindings and/or special papers
  7. Publications which mention friends, colleagues or the owner
  8. Items published by an organisation or programme that the owner works/worked for
  9. Items that the owner has written, produced, assembled or made a significant contribution to
  10. Physical features which make it difficult to digitise the item and/or to reconstruct it from the digital copy
  11. Items illustrating a physical form due to a development in technology
  12. Age that provides a quality of uniqueness
  13. Copying explicitly prevented by copyright
  14. Aesthetic or artistic quality
  15. For use in exhibits
  16. Item relating to the legality of an institution
  17. Executive Policy document

The detailed results are included in IV in PIM, 26Jan2014 – v0.4. I’ll now get started on the second study which will use the Draft PIMRC to assist in making retain/destroy decisions for 4 boxes of Job documents that have yet to be digitised. I anticipate that the results from that work will probably be available in a couple of months.

The first of three studies is underway

Jenny Bunn of UCL provided excellent commentary on the draft Introduction and Methodology sections of the IV in PIM paper, and consequently I have completely revised the methodology [IV in PIM, 20Jan2014 – v0.3]. In summary, the approach I will take is to conduct three studies of retain/destroy decision making using two separate collections – a Job Documents collection and a collection of Mementos. For the first study (using the Job Documents collection), a previous categorisation of ‘Reasons for not destroying the paper’ (RFND criteria), made before I was aware of the NARS Intrinsic Value report, will be compared with the NARS Intrinsic Value (IV) characteristics, and a draft set of PIM Retention Criteria (PIMRC) will be derived from the results. The second study will try out and refine the draft PIMRC in the course of digitising those items in the Job Documents collection that have not already been digitised; and the third study will try out and refine the draft PIMRC by reviewing the retain/destroy decisions that have already been made when digitising the Mementos collection. The knowledge gained in each of the second and third studies will then be combined to produce a final set of PIMRC.

I have already started work on the first study and aim to have completed it, and to have derived the draft PIMRC, by the end of this week.

Ideas for exploring Intrinsic Value

In December 2013, Jenny Bunn of UCL’s Department of Information Studies, alerted me to work in the Archival domain on the Intrinsic Value of documents. In particular, the US National Archives and Records Service (NARS) produced an influential report in 1980 titled “Intrinsic Value in Archival Information” which defined nine criteria for retaining an item in its original form after it had been digitised. It immediately occurred to me that my Document collection and Memento collection could be used to establish if the NARS Intrinsic Value (IV) criteria are applicable to Personal Information Management (PIM) practices. So, I defined three research studies in the form of Introduction and Methodology sections of a journal paper and sent them to three people for comment: Ann O’Brien (University of Loughborough), Jenny Bunn (University College London), and William Jones (University of Washington). William Jones has already responded and I have taken his comments into account in the latest draft of the paper – IV in PIM, 05Jan2014 – v0.2. Once I get the remaining two responses and take any feedback into account, I shall start work on the studies.