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The role of memory in document re-finding

Xiao Xie (School of Management, Anhui University, Hefei, China)
Diane H. Sonnenwald (Royal School of Library and Information Science, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark)
Crystal Fulton (School of Information and Library Studies, University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland)

Library Hi Tech

ISSN: 0737-8831

Article publication date: 16 March 2015



The purpose of this paper is to explore graduate students’ behaviour and perspectives regarding personal digital document management, as well as insights into the connections between memory and document re-finding.


Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 15 graduate students studying information and library science. The interviews were digitally recorded and transcribed. The transcripts were analysed using open and axial coding.


Participants were overall positive about the importance of managing their digital documents but they had little knowledge about currently available personal information management (PIM) tools. Characteristics of digital documents frequently used by participants to re-find documents include name, subject, storage location, creation time, keyword, document title, document file type, user’s location and recency. For participants the act of organizing documents is itself a memory aid. Participants’ recommendations for PIM tools include support for information organization and simplistic visualizations that can be customized, e.g., using colour to highlight folders or documents.

Research limitations/implications

The number of study participants was relatively small, and further studies should examine a more diverse participant sample, e.g., to investigate whether tasks influence re-finding. Further studies should also examine PIM with respect to other types of devices and services, including tablets and cloud services.

Practical implications

The results include recommendations for future PIM tool design.


This research identifies documents’ characteristics that participants use to re-find documents and the importance of these characteristics. It also examines the usage and expectations of PIM tools in everyday PIM.



The authors thank the study participants and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. This research was supported by Chinese Scholarship Council, UCD CSC Scholarship, and the School of Information & Library Studies at University College Dublin.


Xie, X., Sonnenwald, D.H. and Fulton, C. (2015), "The role of memory in document re-finding", Library Hi Tech, Vol. 33 No. 1, pp. 83-102.



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