The Prolific Housekeeper

Author: Ed Cohen and Kathryn Kish

In academic circles, there’s a maxim: Publish or perish. It means get the results of your research or scholarship into print or you’ll eventually vanish from the college’s payroll.

But at Notre Dame a person who publishes as much as anyone else isn’t a professor or even a writer for Notre Dame Magazine — he oversees the cleaning staff.

Alan Bigger, director of building services since 1992, contributes two to three articles a month to such journals as College Planning & Management, Total Maintenance Review and Sanitary Maintenance. He recently reached the 200-article plateau for his writing career. His column “The Frugal Housekeeper” in Executive Housekeeping Today has been delivering advice on topics like how to dust miniblinds or select the ideal floor buffer since 1994. For the past several years he has shared a byline with his copy editor and wife, Linda Bigger ’83, a homemaker and consultant to the Kellogg Institute for International Studies.

Bigger’s trade magazine articles aren’t dry explanations about cleaning methods and equipment; they’re packed with interesting and useful information. For instance, probably few people know that the first motor-driven vacuum cleaner, patented in 1899, didn’t suck up dust, it merely blew it around. One of his housekeeping precepts is that it’s easier to clean a building if you keep the dirt out in the first place. “Eighty percent of the dirt in a building,” he says, “walks in through the front door.” His prescription: Install a system of “walk-off” mats that starts outside and continues into the lobby. It will keep most dirt from getting into carpet.

Bigger’s scrupulously researched articles often contain a humorous note. One of the campus’s few true Irishmen — born in Belfast and raised in Dublin — he readily admits a propensity for blarney. This often extends into headlines. Some of his more deplorable: “How to Maintain Hard Surfaces . . . Without Being Floored,” “A New Tack on Carpet Selection,” and “What’s the Big Stink About? The successful distributor nose how to sniff out and eliminate unpleasant odors.”