4 Rules to Keeping Documents Organized

Many students ask me how I keep all my books and references organized.  In the technical fields of indoor air quality, HVAC, building science, industrial hygiene and green buildings, you must have a good library.  But a good library is useless if you don’t know how to access the information!

Rule #1: Go Electronic

Information is most easily accessed when it is on your computer.  These days you often have the option of purchasing documents and publications in an electronic format.  Do it.  Sure it is a lot easier to read a printed document than some PDF on your computer.  However, three years from now when you are trying to recall the content, you’ll sure wish you had it electronically.  Let’s say you are trying to remember what Joe Lstiburek said in his ASHRAE Journal column from last year about advanced framing.  You’ll still be digging through some dusty magazines long after I have found the PDF of the article on my harddrive.

Rule #2: Tag It

I try to save as many documents as I can to my harddrive.  Many of them I will never read, however, I “tag” the files I do read.  Tagging is a much better way to organize your files when compared to having file folders.  After you start collecting literally thousands of documents, it will be near impossible to keep organized.  How do you file the article that touches on filtration, ventilation and pressurization issues?  With tags, you can tag the file with all three designations.

I bought a Mac computer for the sole reason that it can run the software program: Gravity Apps Tags.  I still organize my files in folders, but they are based on the source of the document (The Synergist, Indoor Environment Connections etc.), not the topic.

Rule #3 Search Your Books

Good ol’ books contain great information, even if you can’t search them.  Or can you?  Google’s much maligned book scanning program means you may be able to do text searches on books you own!  Do you have the following books?

  • Indoor Air Quality Handbook by Spengler
  • Recognition, Evaluation, and Control of Indoor Mold by AIHA
  • Sampling and Analysis of Indoor Microorganisms by Chin Yang

I have these books and find it a lot quicker to do a search on Google than go thumbing through the index.  You only get a limited preview on most books, but if you own it, it doesn’t matter.  You’re really only trying to find the page numbers for the information you need.  Visit Google Books.

Rule #4: Organize Your Books

Google Books hasn’t indexed your entire book library, so there comes a time to dig through the bookshelf.  I use a great software program called Collectorz to keep organized.  I purchased a bar code scanner and my assistant scanned the books on the shelf (75% had bar codes on them).  All the book’s information (title, author, publisher, summary etc.) is automatically entered into the software.  Those books that didn’t have a bar code or ISBN number were entered in manually.   This software is a great option for large companies that own books in different offices.  You can quickly see the books in all your locations (and who has them checked out). With this software, you could run an IAQ library!

Hopefully this blog will help you get a little more organized.  If you have any of your own tips, please write a comment on this post.

By Ian Cull

I'm I.A.N. the Indoor Air Nerd. I'm a speaker and consultant on indoor air quality issues. To learn more about me, click "about" at the top of this page.

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