Purging My Scholarly Memorabilia

Emily Mace in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Full_Library-Interior“What do I do with my academic books, now that I’m no longer a regular academic?” I’ve seen that question posed online, time and again, by Ph.D.s leaving academia for a different career. But this past summer, I asked that question myself — as I regarded the academic books and papers that sat unused on my shelves or buried in basement boxes. In 2012, when I left my first postgraduate home in North Carolina, everything came with me to Chicago: boxes of academic books and papers, too many course readers, and a heavy file cabinet full of meticulously organized folders holding my dissertation research. I unpacked my books but rarely opened the file cabinet in the months that followed. Now, four years later, I am no longer a traditional academic — I work as a grant coordinator in the digital humanities. We moved again, just across town, but this time, I wasn’t willing to bring everything from my old academic life with me. When I first started packing, I simply wanted to toss all of it. I’m not teaching survey courses anymore or, heaven forbid, writing graduate exams on subjects far removed from the keenest areas of my interest.

Dozens of books that I once had cherished no longer felt relevant to my life or my work. Books and papers are heavy, as any academic who’s ever moved knows all-too-well. I looked at my shelves, and suddenly all I could see were volumes I no longer read or consulted, sitting there, taking up space, refusing to make room for new ideas or new possibilities. The books felt like dead weight, holding down my shoulders as much as they did my shelves. My initial impulse was to purge everything— give away all the books, throw the course readers in the recycling bin, erase the dissertation research by tossing it, too, into the bin outside my home. Instead I hesitated. Among those books and papers were some that still meant something to me, and that might someday be relevant again to my life or work. So I started sorting. First, I organized the academic books into piles: keep, take to work, give to my husband (who happens to be in the same field), or sell. The “take-to-work” books comprised approximately two shelves’ worth of materials on late-19th-century America, the period most closely related to the grant that I administer. The “spouse” books were ones he didn’t own that were relevant to his work; he took them to his campus office rather than to our new home.

More here.