[5] Archiving and personal libraries

I am regularly using a scientific news feed reader to inform myself about the latest publications in my particular fields of research. Being a hunter-gatherer type of person (post [3]), I will archive the (apparently) most relevant publications into my personal library.
But each time when I scan through the newly arrived papers, I feel uneasy: “When shall I ever read all these papers ? Is this routine of news browsing and archiving not a complete waste of time ? On the other hand, isn’t it important for a scientist to always stay informed about the “state of art” ? And, actually, many of these collected papers really seem to suggest that they might become relevant for some future projects. Wouldn’t it be a pity if I missed such a potentially essential piece of information ?”
Such worries made me continue the practice of archiving science papers up to now. But my intuition is that some radical resolution has to be made, if I ever want to achieve true peace of mind with this issue.
The problem is that the actual use of the papers in my personal library is close to zero. As experience shows, I will be reading only a minute fraction of them, anyway. And I am not alone with that disproportion: http://friendfeed.com/cmetzner/3de8d0b6/when-did-you-last-time-study-scientific-paper-in . Furthermore, from the papers studied carefully, only a small fraction will be actually used in my own projects later on. Consequently, I am now seriously considering to stop my habit of archiving. But I am not 100% decided yet.
Meryn Stol has made an interesting remark that the activity of searching for relevant information in the Web and archiving it can also be seen as a kind of exercise:
With regard to archiving, I think that nowadays there’s more value in the archiving than in the archive. Archiving (and especially in a non-hierarchical system, like with tags) helps build your brain and your ability to quickly access relevant information through search queries, even if you don’t execute these queries against your own archive, but simply search Google, or some scientific paper repository.
I think this points to two general principles:
We should focus more on doing than on having
and
We should adjust our habits in such a way that they best serve the larger goals in our life.
In the case of archiving and personal library building, the larger goal that these activities serve is to help us accomplish our own projects. Comparing, again, the growth of ideas with the growth of food plants (post [4]), the library is like a huge container of various nutrients. The growing plant (or interlocked set of ideas) needs certain nutrients at certain times. So we should take care that the nutrients (information fragments) are quickly available whenever needed, but also that the timing is correct. Therefore, for the knowledge worker, a regular training of his information search abilities is obviously useful, as Meryn has pointed out. On the other hand, confronting the mind with “foreign information” at the wrong time may deflect our “path in idea space”, typically towards the standard path that other people have chosen before. In my experience as a theoretical physicist, it usually turned out best if I didn’t study the available literature on a subject too much in the beginning of a project.
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