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Clinicians and researchers typically amass large quantities of documents over time. These journal articles and other written educational resources must be filed in some manner, allowing easy retrieval. All too often this consumes many linear feet of shelf space or several file cabinets. Invariably, important journal articles or other educational resources are misplaced, leading the individual to either mourn their loss or proceed to replace them, wasting valuable time. At times the burden is shifted to the librarian who has to re-request an obscure work from another library.

In today’s ‘information age’, journals now almost universally publish materials on-line, often prior to print publication, and in almost all cases prior to when the printed journal arrives in one’s physical mailbox. All too often, these on-line documents are downloaded in the ubiquitous Portable Document Format (PDF), printed, and the physical paper filed away (or placed in large piles on one’s desk).

The advent of inexpensive imaging devices and the maturation of synchronisation and search software, together with dual screen computer systems make it possible to replace file cabinets and shelves with easy-to-retrieve electronic representations of their contents. This article will guide the practitioner in how to set up such a system and be able to literally throw away the paper. Described below is a relatively inexpensive system for document imaging, storage, backup, retrieval and viewing. The inspiration came from the gift of a retired Professor’s lifetime journal article collection that was stored in a large bank of file cabinets (Figure 1). My mission was to convert the approximately 6000 articles and book chapters (some very difficult to replace if ever lost) onto one recordable DVD disc, and then dispose of the paper copies. Such an endeavour requires the adoption of a new philosophy. This paradigm shift can be summarised by the 10 virtual commandments (Table 1).

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Figure 1.  The Scientific File Resource Library of Jan Volavka, MD, PhD, Professor Emeritus of the Department of Psychiatry, New York University, New York City, NY, USA. Library located at the Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research, Orangeburg, NY, USA

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Table 1.   The ten virtual commandments
IThou shalt not keep paper copies of any downloaded documents.
IIThou shalt endeavour to start converting all paper documents to PDF format.
IIIThou shalt adopt a standard approach to naming PDF files.
IVThou shalt store PDF files in an organised fashion in suitably named file folders on one’s personal computer.
VThou shalt back up file folders on a regular basis by synchronisation with a portable hard drive, and subsequently on any and all computers at work or at home that one uses.
VIThou shalt index one’s hard drive using an indexing program that permits searching within PDF files.
VIIThou shalt seldomly print the PDF file.
VIIIThou shalt view PDF files on large monitors or on multi-monitor systems.
IXThou shalt use e-mail to send PDF documents to others instead of using paper faxing or the postal service.
XThou shalt encourage others to be virtually paperless at work and at home.

Scanning and downloading

  1. Top of page
  2. Scanning and downloading
  3. Storage and backup
  4. Retrieval
  5. Viewing
  6. Other technical considerations
  7. Summary
  8. Disclosures
  9. Reference

For most journals, PDF versions of published articles are available only for the past decade or so. There are notable exceptions, such as the resources made available by the American Psychiatric Association (APA): the American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc.’s Psychiatry Legacy Collection. All issues of The American Journal of Psychiatry from volume 1 (published in 1844 as The American Journal of Insanity) to present are available on-line free of charge to APA members at the journal’s website (http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/). Using an on-line search website such as PubMed (http://pubmed.gov) or HighWire (http://highwire.org/), it is easy to locate the journal article entry and a link to the publisher’s site (1). Many journal articles are available for free download for everyone. Clinicians with hospital or university affiliations can get broader access to even more journal titles. Physicians in New York State in the USA have free access, upon registration, to the New York State Library and its full text electronic journal holdings (http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/).

For articles whose PDF versions are available on-line, the quality is generally better than scanning it oneself (there are exceptions), and the downloaded documents are generally searchable and do not require further manipulation (unlike scanning as will be discussed below). When the PDF is not available on-line, the paper must be scanned. In the past few years, inexpensive sheet-fed scanners manufactured by companies, such as Fujitsu (http://www.fujitsu.com/us/services/computing/peripherals/scanners/) and Xerox (http://www.xeroxscanners.com/default.asp?pageid=100) have become available that can take a multi-page document and scan it at 15 or more sheets a minute, with both sides of the sheet scanned simultaneously, ultimately creating a PDF document on your computer. For example, the Fujitsu ScanSnap S510 is one such machine whose price is under $500 (http://www.fujitsu.com/downloads/COMP/fcpa/scanners/s510_datasheet.pdf). This particular sheet-fed document scanner is quite compact, taking up little space on a desk. It is bundled with an assortment of software, including a full version of Adobe Acrobat that allows you to convert the scanned images into searchable text and also annotate the article if you desire to do so. By default, the PDF file created is named using the date and time it was produced. You will want to change the name to a more descriptive one. One possible naming convention is to name the file by title, first author, journal and year. For example, this article could be named ‘CreatingPaperlessOffice CITROME IJCP2008’. An alternative would be to use ‘key words’ instead of the title, such as ‘PDFScanningSearchingComputersSoftware CITROME IJCP2008’. It would be placed in a file folder possibly named ‘Computers and Psychiatry’. Whatever naming scheme you use, it is important to be consistent and take care to spell correctly to allow accurate retrieval later. Adding spaces between words and using upper or lower case is optional, but may make it easier when reviewing lists of PDF file names.

Storage and backup

  1. Top of page
  2. Scanning and downloading
  3. Storage and backup
  4. Retrieval
  5. Viewing
  6. Other technical considerations
  7. Summary
  8. Disclosures
  9. Reference

Downloaded ‘native’ PDF files can be quite compact and do not take much storage space. Scanned PDF documents on the other hand can be several megabytes in size, and collectively can consume a relatively large amount of disc space. This can be managed by scanning in black and white (a side benefit is that the text actually becomes darker and crisper and the documents load much more quickly when viewing them). Colour scanning can be reserved for when colour or grey-scale illustrations are not well reproduced in monochrome. A hard drive size larger than 40 gigabytes is generally needed if you are going to start storing scanned documents. Small compact ‘2.5-inch form factor’ external hard drives whose capacities are 80 gigabytes (and greater) are available for < $100. These hard drives generally do not need their own power supply – when you attach the ‘USB’ data cable between the drive and your computer, the drive is powered by the computer.

Backing up the information on a hard drive can be a tedious and lengthy chore, but software exists today that make incremental back-ups quick and easy. The key concept here is ‘synchronising’ the contents of your file folders across different computers and/or external hard drives. This means each computer or external hard drive contains the same file folders and identical files that contain your digital library. This is accomplished by using a synchronisation program, such as ‘SyncToy’, available free for users of the Microsoft Windows operating system (http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/using/digitalphotography/prophoto/synctoy.mspx). Similar programs are available for Apple brand computers. The first thing to do is make sure your external hard drive has all the file folders you want by doing a straightforward copy of the file folders to it. When you have scanned or downloaded additional documents to one of your computers, you would periodically synchronise your computer files with the external hard drive, a process that takes only a few seconds or minutes. To update other computers, such as your laptop, you would synchronise again, this time attaching the external hard drive to the laptop. Your laptop would then contain the same updated file folders as your other computer and the external hard drive. Synchronisation has enabled persons to have all their files at work, at home, on their laptop, and backed up onto an external hard drive. If one machine fails, nothing is lost.

Retrieval

  1. Top of page
  2. Scanning and downloading
  3. Storage and backup
  4. Retrieval
  5. Viewing
  6. Other technical considerations
  7. Summary
  8. Disclosures
  9. Reference

Unfortunately, even the best naming scheme for your PDF files and file folders will be less than adequate once you have stored a few hundred files. The built-in file search program in the Microsoft Windows operating system will also not be sufficient. Fortunately there are free programs available such as ‘Google Desktop’ (http://desktop.google.com/) and ‘Copernic Desktop Search’ (http://www.copernic.com) that can index the entire contents of your hard drive. The latter program can search within PDF files (as well as inside Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, Excel spreadsheets, and importantly, e-mails and their attachments), so that if you don’t remember all the details of the file you are seeking, you can still find it by entering into the search program some of the words, dates or names that you think the file may contain. The search program then provides a list of possible files, sorted anyway you specify, such as by date, name or type of file format. A ‘preview’ is also shown so that you don’t have to open the file directly when you are searching.

Viewing

  1. Top of page
  2. Scanning and downloading
  3. Storage and backup
  4. Retrieval
  5. Viewing
  6. Other technical considerations
  7. Summary
  8. Disclosures
  9. Reference

Although it is possible to view PDF documents on your monitor and do other tasks as well, it is far more efficient to use a dual-monitor setup (http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/using/setup/learnmore/northrup_multimon.mspx). Prices of 19-inch LCD flat-screen computer monitors are now economical ($300) and the monitors are compact. Most computer operating systems sold today support dual monitors. To hook up a second monitor you will need a dual output videocard, an additional videocard, or an external USB video adapter. An alternate arrangement is to use a somewhat more expensive but larger monitor whose maximum resolution is supported by your computer’s video card.

Other technical considerations

  1. Top of page
  2. Scanning and downloading
  3. Storage and backup
  4. Retrieval
  5. Viewing
  6. Other technical considerations
  7. Summary
  8. Disclosures
  9. Reference

Problems arise when the paper you want to scan is too big for the scanner. Unfortunately, large format sheet-fed scanners are too expensive for the single user. One workaround is to reduce the size on a photocopy machine and then scan. Another is to cut to size and scan the pieces. A guillotine-style paper cutter is very useful to keep edges straight and can be purchased at an office-supply store but a pair of scissors can suffice.

For researchers, cataloguing references can also be more efficiently accomplished by using software programs such as ‘Reference Manager’ (http://www.refman.com) or ‘Endnote’ (http://www.endnote.com). These programs allow for the relatively painless reformatting of bibliographies and can provide direct ‘links’ to the PDF files that one has accumulated.

Care must be taken to not run afoul of copyright laws and regulations. In the USA, ‘fair use’ permits users of copyrighted works to make reproductions for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship or research (http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap1.html#107), provided that such use is not commercial nor for making a profit. Fair use tools and guidelines are also available (http://www.lib.uconn.edu/copyright/fairUse_Tools.html).

In the UK, scanning is allowed under ‘fair dealing’, but only for private study or non-commercial research (http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/services/elib/papers/pa/fair/intro.html). Further dissemination is prohibited.

Summary

  1. Top of page
  2. Scanning and downloading
  3. Storage and backup
  4. Retrieval
  5. Viewing
  6. Other technical considerations
  7. Summary
  8. Disclosures
  9. Reference

Document management can be now essentially paperless, creating clutter-free environments by freeing up physical shelf and cabinet space while permitting fast and easy retrieval, and allowing viewing of documents at multiple locations. The cost of scanning equipment and hard drives has fallen substantially, making an inexpensive system a reality. A journal file library can be the first step towards a paperless office. Many journal articles are available on-line for downloading, and older papers can be quickly digitised using compact sheet-fed scanners.

Disclosures

  1. Top of page
  2. Scanning and downloading
  3. Storage and backup
  4. Retrieval
  5. Viewing
  6. Other technical considerations
  7. Summary
  8. Disclosures
  9. Reference

Dr. Citrome owns a small number of shares of common stock in several technology companies, including Cisco, Dell, Intel, and Microsoft.