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At what point does something become an obsession? Do you feel it happening? Does something click over in your brain, like the amps that go to 11, or is it gradual like the slow boiling of a frog which doesn’t know it’s being cooked until it’s too late? Either way, once you’re there, you know it.

I look around me, both physically and the emotional inventory sort of way, and realized I am a woman obsessed. For the last two weeks at least, I have become obsessed with files. Not willingly, of course, or at least that’s what I’d like to tell myself. No, this obsession came on as rather a slow burn that has managed to destroy all other thought and consume my waking life to a meticulous maintaining of the filing system at work.

Our business is regulatory, which beyond ensuring that federal and state requirements are met, also happens to require huge paper files. While we have toyed with the idea of “going green” and digitizing them, we have found that in practice, this is simply not feasible. The time it takes to physically scan the entirety of the existing file is something that could easily take a decade. Each item would need to be scanned, indexed and archived in a way that is not only realistic for the type of person who would be assigned this task (either an entry level clerk or temp) but also one that meets the federal requirements for tracking usage, modification and acceptable variations from the original ink signature which we also require.

After a failed attempt to do so, simply because our task also requires a working knowledge of our business, what the items being scanned are, and so forth, the two individuals we brought in to help were actually not much help at all. The first, a young woman with a nasty huffing and drinking habit, simply stopped showing up for days and when she did, she would disappear for hours at a time. The second, an older woman who claimed her age made the task too difficult to understand, in spite of my best efforts to educate her otherwise. In the end, I have a huge report of what was scanned, which I must now wade through and correct. Eight hundred items, to be precise.

Beyond this failure, I did not learn my lesson and walk away from the project. No, like a sucker, I tried to find solutions. Having our existing staff scan and upload each item after processing seemed like a good idea on paper, but in practice created an even larger bottleneck and nearly quadrupled the amount of time it took to get something done.

The solution for now, is unfortunately an off site archiving for items that qualify. Basically, once a file is completed, we are bound by regulation to maintain said file for three additional years. So, the last two weeks, I have been pulling closed files, re-ordering them by archive date and then boxing and cataloging each one in the dank basement of the facility where I work. It is a lonely job, but one that needs to be done, more accurately by 4:30 today.

Our office is relocating again, and unfortunately, the files cannot come with us. It presents a unique challenge for our access to the files as they exist, but one that I have no answer to at the moment. Real estate is too valuable for paper, and so, the lonely archivist awakens at 3:00 a.m. in a panic that it may not get done in time. Haunted by nightmares of overly chatty managers and colleagues who refused to help, but don’t understand why I’m so cranky all of a sudden. My files, I explain, they need me. Though I am greeted by slow, uncertain nodding at what I just said, I don’t have time to explain. I’m running out of time.