Moving Away from Paper?

There is no doubt about it, the world is going digital, and the water industry is going along with it. I’m on board with the trend as it is generally making our lives a little better.

But digital isn’t always better. The example I use is conference proceedings. Up through the 1980’s collection of papers at conferences were bound in printed books. Then conference organizers realized that CDs were more compact and cost less to create. You’d leave the conference with a CD or receive one in the mail. Great. Then they realized that USB drives were smaller and cost less. Today, papers are generally uploaded to the cloud and a link is provided. We’ve reached conference proceeding nirvana. Right?

Not always. Today, I pulled out a copy of the 1975 AWWA Conference and found a student paper I presented there. Try doing that with a CD. First, I no longer have a CD reader on my main computer. But if I did, I would most likely get a “file corrupted” or “file format not supported” error. USB drives are almost as bad. They are easier to misplace, and now we’re warned about them being compromised. That leaves us with cloud storage.  Seems easier to search, but within about two years, the link to the proceedings will likely be broken and the file is gone. In this case, paper wins.

When it comes to reading, I’d rather have a paper document. I can carry it around and read it whenever I have a chance. I sit at my computer enough during the day. And I’m sorry millennials, but I don’t see how anyone can read anything substantial on a cell phone.

That being said, there is a downside to paper as well. It’s bulky. My wife and I are in the process of downsizing. Our current house is big and has all sorts of space to store a pretty vast personal library. By the end of the year, we’ll be settling into much smaller quarters. I need to find a place for my library (other than the bottom of a dumpster or a paper recycling facility). I’ve talked with schools and libraries, and they have bought into digitalization. They don’t know how to handle paper documents anymore. 

My wife will allow me to keep a few books and I can give a few other valuable ones to colleagues. I am finding some junk and some treasures as I go through my stuff, and a lot of great memories. 

My big issue is with journals. My collection is mostly complete and includes:

Journal American Water Works Association
April 1980 to present

Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management
May 2001 to present

Urban Water Journal
January 1995 to present

Journal of Environmental Engineering
Jan 1989 to Feb 1995

I’m looking for a home for these journals. If you are interested in adopting any, let me know at We can work out some shipping. If you are within reasonable driving distance of northeastern Pennsylvania, I’ll personally deliver them to your office or library.

I’ll probably cry when I send them off (like saying goodbye to an old friend). 

The next day, I’ll probably be looking for a paper from 1997 that I had just given away. I’ll call you.