Readings' list

Whittaker, S. and Hirschberg, J. 2001. The character, value, and management of personal paper archives. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact. 8, 2 (Jun. 2001), 150-170.

Summary/ Key Points

Empirical study to address the processing and archival function of paper in the office.


  1. Obsolescence: paper archives that were once highly valued are increasingly becoming irrelevant, because of general changes in  office work.
  2. Uniqueness: reasons why people retain information. People are rational about storage. They therefore tend to retain only unique data, it being inefficient to store duplicates of data available elsewhere.
  3. Filing: is filing a superior approach to store papers? What factors influence choice of paper handling strategies?


Web-survey (50 people) and semi-structure interview ( 14 people). Participant were preparing for a move in a different office. Researcher counted the number of paper boxes used for the move and discharded.


Obsolescence hypothesis

Workers did not discharged more than 22% of their information. They also attributed high value to their collections. New and less experienced workers accumulated more information than older. Discarded information were obsolete. 23% of this obsolete information were documents that underwent a deferred evaluation. Some people dealt with information overload by placing them in a "decanter" and time will help them do better judgments. The problem is then that they do not clean up their archives.

Uniqueness Hypothesis

Unique data are working notes, archives of completed projects, legal or administrative data.

Only 49% of people documents were unique.
People gave four reasons for keeping non unique documents:

  1. availability: allows relevant material to be at hand when needed.
  2. Reminding relates to availability: a document remind people of actions.
  3. Distrust of central stores: documents on the web may not be available in the future. Journal in library may dissapear.
  4. Emotional or Sentimental issues.
  5. They contain personal annotations.

Publicly available documents are valuable for users because of personal influence, such as the document may them think differently, because they cite them often or because of the quality of their bibliography.

Filing hypothesis

Malone described filers and pilers. Users use both methods. The authors put a threshold of 40%: people who had more than 40% of working papers or unread paper were classified as pilers (30%), the reminder as filers (70).

Pilers had less documents archived. It was easier for them to discard documents for the move.
Pilers accumulated information slower. Often for filers secretary did file away documents.
Pilers accessed more frequently their documents. Filing doesn't always guarantee easy access to information. Filing systems can be arcane.
Job type did not seem to determine documents handlings strategies.


Users experienced problems with processing information of uncertain value. How can system help?

People experience problems with cleaning up: how can they be helped?

Several results of the study was based on retention of papers documents during the move: how many they kept before and after. The measure was in terms of volume. User behavior was determined mostly by web survey.

Disclaimer: I wrote these summaries to help me remember the content and the main ideas of the paper. Since I am interested in certain aspects, I may leave out others.

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