When I got back from Nashville I decided to clean up my campus office, which got a little, um, musty while I was gone. I swept, dusted, unpacked boxes, and reshelved books. My file cabinets were already stuffed to the gills when I left for sabbatical, and I came back with lots more to file and no space in which to file it. With no room to add another file cabinet, I ordered up one of those giant barrel-sized recycling bins and set to work purging.
Some stuff was easy to get rid of. The forty-sixth copy-edited draft of that essay? Gone. Articles originally read for my MA program's non-rhetoric courses? Gone. Former grad students' dissertation drafts? Gone. (Sorry to any of the authors of said dissertations who might be reading this, but you've gone on to bigger things anyway, right?). Teaching stuff has always been pretty easy for me to handle. Old exams and papers? I usually dump and/or shred those after a couple of semesters, so they don't hang around long. Data about final grades and how I calculated them? I keep that forever.
Some stuff, however, left me stumped. For example, the galleys from my first book, which was published over four years ago. I was about to toss it all into the bin when I suddenly wondered whether this was something I should keep, like how you are supposed to keep your tax returns forever. I can't imagine why I would need them, yet they just didn't seem like something I should throw away. Is there a scholarly equivalent to being audited? (Or maybe that's what tenure is, and I already have that.)
You know how personal finance books like Personal Finance for Dummies have those lists about which financial documents you can toss after a certain time period (e.g., credit card statements, cancelled checks, etc.) and which you should keep forever (e.g., titles, tax returns, etc.)? Academics need one of those lists for filing. How do you know what is okay to purge from files and what isn't? What can you ditch and what should you keep forever?