Friday, November 04, 2005

Dark Secrets of the Blogging Queen!

My blogging fans are begging to know how I manage to do it? Present that well groomed, tactful exterior so well-known in the law library community, keep a sparkling library running like a top, work on my grant and blog like a maniac! Well, aside from the well-known tactic of delegate, delegate, delegate.... here is the dark secret of the Blogging Queen....

Desktop Ecology
by Betsy McKenzie

Does it ever seem to you that your desk has taken on a life of its own? Once I had a neat, clean desk, with everything stowed in its own folder. Then I went to work in a library. For one thing, I don’t seem to be able to lay hands on enough file folders, or at least folders of the right sizes. And then, it seems to make sense to leave it out when I know I’ll be working on that file in just a short while. But there are so many files that way. And then, something happens, and I fall behind and I start coping by just making piles on the desk and floor.

I call it filing by piling. You know where every thing is within the stacks... right up until the stacks start an avalanche! Curse those slick magazines! Literally slick. If you have the poor judgement to leave two coated journals next to each other in the pile – look out!

You know you are in trouble when your staff starts putting the new mail or important items on your chair so they don’t get lost. That’s because anything that gets set on the desk immediately assumes protective coloration and blends in. You can no longer pick it out from the background of catalogs, old memos and notepads. What do they call it on those nature shows? Camouflage! Of course, there are vendors who are aware of this. They send items in bright yellow or blue. But then, there gets to be so much bright yellow and blue on your desk that they rather defeat their purpose, and it turns out to be the white that stands out again.

I have always suspected that the paper actually multiplies. I could not possibly be responsible for all this paper myself! I remember reading articles in library school about paperless libraries. Ha! We not only get paper catalogs and ads from vendors, but at my school, the administration still follows up their e-mail announcements with a paper copy lest anybody miss the news. I am drowning in paper. I am starting to be a little bit afraid about this, and here is why.

My desk was nearly clean once for a few shining weeks last summer. I was conscientiously filing everything as it came, or throwing it out after I read it. But then I got busy, started to fall behind, and started to make little piles. First they were neat little piles. I was still filing and throwing out most stuff, reading things as they came. But then I got busier, and then I got sick and fell behind. When I got back, there were big piles of mail to go through, and all the new mail kept coming in as well (and placed on the guest chairs in my office -- a sure measure of trouble on the McKenzie Mess Index). Now there are huge piles, with, I hope, no slick paper next to other coated paper. But I feel that the piles are growing without my adding to them. Each day when I come in, they seem bigger...without my having added anything.

Is there some critical mass (to mix scientific metaphors) at which a messy desk can actually take on a life of its own? In fact, is there some sort of paper invasive species lurking out there? I suspect a sort of kudzu of memos and catalogs, springing up and spreading by many feet each night. The top of my desk seems more like a coral reef or jungle now than a work surface. It really is a complex ecosystem, with niches exploited by all types of desktop creatures. There are staplers, tape dispensers, and reams and reams of all types of paper, the most ubiquitous of all. There are archeological layers of memos, layers of mulched reports.

There may be an entire system of speciation at work here, with families branching off to take advantage of niches in the environment. Is it possible that paper can engage in mating rituals to find the most attractive mates? What would be the selection criterion? Does size matter (eek!)? Is it about color, images, coating or text? Or do the potential mates duke it out? I can well imagine competing memoranda butting heads. Maybe they fluff themselves up to intimidate a rival. That would account for a lot on my desk, I can tell you. I guess you have but to look at your desk to see what has been the driving factor for mating selection in your desktop ecology.

Do the mated pairs joust with other pairs to secure territory to increase the likelihood of the brood’s success? Again, this probably explains an awful lot about my desk. Many a morning the desk looks as though there had been quite a bit of territorial competition going on. And is there some grim Darwinian selection at work on our desks? That would explain the disappearance of some memos and a few reports in the past, I guess. I don’t know how my dean would feel about this as an explanation, though. Perhaps I need to apply for a grant:

“Development of Invasive Species of Paper in Desktop Ecologies and Their Destructive Impact on Native Tabletop Species.”

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