Weeknote 43 (2020)

This was the week that I planned to remove myself as much as possible from my regular working responsibilities and reconnect with my chosen community of Access 2020 which is the GOAT of conferences, in my books.

This did not happen.

Instead, I ended up working on a variety of management-related responsibilities and caught what Access sessions I could, asynchronously. I mention this not as a consideration for myself as some sort of martyr but because middle management work is work that can be devalued by both librarians and administration.

I was able to watch the opening keynote. Jessie Loyer’s talk on indigenous language revitalization through the lens of technology was everything an opening keynote should be: welcoming, questioning, challenging, and illuminating.


I also want to give a special shout-out to Shelley Gullikson’s “Web librarians who do UX: We are sad, we are so very very sad”.

IMHO: Leadership/management/librarians must understand that charging individuals with the responsibility of the library website without the authority to make those changes without consensus or vote taking from librarians is nothing less than the abject rejection of professional expertise of UX librarians.

I say this as a former UX librarian who also found a relief from sadness in Scott Pilgrim .

Another Access presentation that I very much enjoyed was Amy McLay Paterson’s What is a Library Website, Anyway?

The library website is many different things to many different people, but in the academic context, it is primarily thought of as a research portal. But Paterson suggests that considering the library as a contribution to student success should not be completely overshadowed.

Later in the day, after I had watched Amy’s presentation, I tried to catch up on some of my reading and found this article — Creating a Student-Centered Alternative to Research Guides: Developing the Infrastructure to Support Novice Learners — that rhymed with some of concerns Amy raised earlier.

Ruth L. Baker (2014) suggested that LibGuides could be used more effectively if they were structured as tutorials that guided students through the research process. Such guides would “function to reduce cognitive load and stress on working memory; engage students through metacognition for deeper learning; and provide a scaffolded framework so students can build skills and competencies gradually towards mastery.”28 In one of the few studies conducted to assess the impact of research guides on student learning, Stone et al. (2018) tested two types of guides for different sections of a Dental Hygiene first year seminar course. One guide was structured around resource lists organized by resource types (pathfinder design) while the second was organized around an established information literacy research process approach. The results showed that students found the pedagogical guide more helpful than the resource guide in navigating the information literacy research process. Stone et al. concluded that these pedagogical guides, structured around the research process with tips and guidance explaining the “why” and the “how” of the research process, led to better student learning.29

Jeremiah Paschke-Wood, Ellen Dubinsky and Leslie Sult, “Creating a Student-Centered Alternative to Research Guides: Developing the Infrastructure to Support Novice Learners“, In the Library with the Lead Pipe, 21 Oct 2020

I take some comfort from the conclusions above.

Recently I was asked to give a 3 hour lecture to a small class of graduate students from the University of Windsor’s Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research. I found that I needed some form of scaffolding to frame the information I was about to present or students (and I) would feel terribly lost. I opted to structure the class around work of The Open Science Research Cycle, based on Jeroen Bosman and Bianca Kramer work on academic workflows at https://101innovations.wordpress.com/workflows/.

In a perfect world, my set of H5P slides of The Open Science Research Cycle would be finished in time for the last day of Open Access Week, but here we are.

Weeknotes : 42 (2020)

“Weeknotes are blogposts about our working week”

Web of Weeknotes

Having a set regular writing schedule seems to work for me. Since 2016, I send out a small set of recommended reads, games, and other things every Saturday morning via a TinyLetter to around 200 people. Since August of this year, I’ve managed to send out weekly updates of local civic matters every Monday. I’ve been meaning to write more regularly about library things, so it would make sense to start writing weeknotes here. I’m going to aim for every Friday.


I quite enjoyed the latest Secret Feminist Agenda in which host Hannah McGregor discusses matters of academic mentorship with York Associate Professor and Associate Dean, Lily Cho. I liked how this discussion brought up the existence of the recalcitrant mentored – those students who does not recognize their abilities or do not see themselves in a particular role. But what I particularly appreciated in the conversation was Cho’s remarks that it is either necessary to detangle closeness with mentorship or we need to reimagine closeness. Her insights into University Administration are also worth a listen.


To file under ‘high citations numbers does not always mean a great paper’ is this thread:


Last week I stumbled upon this video that alerted me that a plug-in for Zotero called Zotfile exists that allows for highlighted text from PDFs to easily imported as a note.

This prompted me to revisit the Zotero plug-in page where I learned of a bunch of extensions that I wasn’t previously aware of.

The Zutilo extension appears particularly useful.


There are lots of videos in this inaugural Librarian of Things Weeknotes.

So I may as well include this fine one

Why would anyone pay $1500 to learn how to write notes?

Part one

In 2018, musician and writer Claire L. Evans spoke at the XOXO Festival sharing some of the stories that she tells more fully in her book, Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet. It was from this presentation that I first learned about the Microcosm system – a working hypertext system that predated the world wide web.

I learned from Evans that the Microcosm system – like the world wide web – offered links between documents and media – but unlike the World Wide Web – the links between objects were not stored in the documents themselves but in a separate system. Not only did this extra infrastructure ensure that the reader would never be presented a broken link, but the system allowed for multiple sets of different links that could connect files together. This meant that a beginner could be provided a different experience from say, a domain expert.

It was a system that was more aligned to Vannevar Bush’s original vision of MEMEX – an environment in which the reader and not the author who makes the most associations between documents.

Crucially, Microcosm offered bi-directional linking.

“The system we were working on at Southampton Microcosm [the pre-web hypermedia system developed in the 1980s] had very sophisticated two way linking,” says Dame Wendy Hall, professor of computer science at the University of Southampton. “It was very prescient of the Semantic Web – you used the links to describe why you were making that relationship between those two data objects.”

How Google warped the hyperlink, WIRED UK, Sophie Charara, 26 March 2019

Recently, I’ve became interested in new-to-me note taking software because some of my favourite newsletter writers wouldn’t stop talking about how much better their lives had improved now that they had adopted Notion or Roam or Obsidian to their lives. Unable to restrain my curiosity any longer, I moved my to do lists and other notes to Notion and I watched a lot of YouTube videos on how to best build my system.

On September 16th, I wrote a blog post called Noting well about these systems and how they fit into a model called The Digital Garden.

On September 17th, Notion introduced bi-directional Linking to their system.

Part Two

Once you have a note-taking system such as Notion, Obsidian, or Roam Research, or other system that uses bi-directional linking, now you can build your second brain.

How? You can spend $1500 USD to find out.

You will learn how to capture, organize, and share your ideas and insights using digital notes, with a systematic approach and tools that you trust to support creative breakthroughs in your work

Or you can spend $13.99 USD for the print version of How to take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers.

This is the step-by-step guide on how to set up and understand the principle behind the note-taking system that enabled Luhmann to become one of the most productive and systematic scholars of all time. But most importantly, it enabled him to do it with ease. He famously said: “I never force myself to do anything I don’t feel like.” Luhmann’s system is often misunderstood and rarely well explained (especially in English). This book aims to make this powerful tool accessible to everyone with an interest in reading, thinking and writing. It is especially helpful for students and academics of the social sciences and humanities and nonfiction writers.

I opted to spend the $13.99.

You may opt to watch this video instead:

Part Three

Both the Building a Second Brain and the Smart Notes systems are means to encourage better note taking for learning, and by demanding that the user immediately paraphrases what they’ve just learned, they end up creating an environment where excerpts can easily be found and brought together into a linear text.

From what I can understand, the major difference between the Build a Second Brain method of notes taking and the Smart Notes method, is that while the Smart Notes method encourages the reader to connect captured ideas together as growing lines of thought, the BASB method encourages the reader to file ideas into new or existing Projects.

It is not surprising that newsletter writers, podcasters, YouTubers, and other content creators have gravitated to these note taking systems since they are built for “borrowed creativity”, “intermediate packets”, and “idea recycling”.

The video above is from Ali Abdaal who largely makes videos about productivity. In another video, Ali flexed that he makes more money from his passive income sources of YouTube Adsense and Skillshare than his day job as a junior doctor in the UK.

Is it surprising then to learn that the creator of the BASB of note-taking situates that work in a larger context of being a Full-Stack Freelancer?

Except from The Rise of the Full-Stack Freelancer

Is it just me or does this sound a little too much like a ponzi scheme or multi-level marketing system in which each influencer sells the promise of productivity systems through sponcon-paying videos on Adsense-paying YouTube channels to gather enough of an audience to drive the viewer to Skillshare?

It almost makes me worried for Academia.

Luckily Ali has a Skillshare course on stoicism for that worry.

(Man, what is it with these stoics?)

Part Four

For the record, I was surprised how much I was inspired by the promise of the Smart Notes system as described by Sönke Ahrens.

I used my own version of it to develop this very blog post:

I am trying to take smart notes on my readings going forward. I wish I had started earlier. Much earlier.

I was not a great undergraduate student. I felt like I immediately forgot everything I learned in class after I wrote the final exam, even in courses that I had excelled in. What I learned never felt like my own. It felt like I was being asked to memorize textbooks rather than than build my own sense of understanding and ask my own questions. What if, I wonder, what if I had otherwise imagined my undergraduate degree as a time to build up a zettelkasten to call my own?

There’s another reason why I am gravitating to the smart notes system.

I have been writing on the web (otherwise known as blogging) for over 20 years. I recognize that many times I feel inspired to share some insight that occurred only because I had stumbled on a connection between 2 or 3 disparate ideas within the span of a week or two. But I’m a middle aged woman now and I’ve forgotten more than I can even remember. I don’t write blog posts that mention an amazing essay I’ve bookmarked seven years ago, because I’ve forgotten that I’ve even read it.

I’m not doing this for a future career in making Skillshare videos. I’m not even doing it for this blog. I’m doing this for myself because there is a particular quiet joy that comes from reading and writing and learning and sharing.

Note bene.

Noting well

Scribble, scribble, scribble (Eh! Mr Gibbon?)

Last week I read an article that made me very uncomfortable. I had been diagnosed by the author and was found to be diseased.

The Twittering Machine is powered by an insight at once obvious and underexplored: we have, in the world of the social industry, become “scripturient—possessed by a violent desire to write, incessantly.” Our addiction to social media is, at its core, a compulsion to write. Through our comments, updates, DMs, and searches, we are volunteers in a great “collective writing experiment.” Those of us who don’t peck out status updates on our keyboards are not exempt. We participate too, “behind our backs as it were,” creating hidden (written) records of where we clicked, where we hovered, how far we scrolled, so that even reading, within the framework of the Twittering Machine, becomes a kind of writing.

Going Postal: A psychoanalytic reading of social media and the death drive, Max Read for Bookforum

The scripturient among us cannot stop writing even though social media brings no joy. Some of us opted for a lesser evil and have Waldenponded to the cozyweb

Unlike the main public internet, which runs on the (human) protocol of “users” clicking on links on public pages/apps maintained by “publishers”, the cozyweb works on the (human) protocol of everybody cutting-and-pasting bits of text, images, URLs, and screenshots across live streams. Much of this content is poorly addressable, poorly searchable, and very vulnerable to bitrot. It lives in a high-gatekeeping slum-like space comprising slacks, messaging apps, private groups, storage services like dropbox, and of course, email.

from Cozyweb by Venkatesh Rao

In other words, some of us have opted to keep writing compulsively but mostly to ourselves.

I’ve found Notion to be welcome respite from the public square of Twitter or even the water-cooler of Slack. While I used to plan trips on Pinterest, I now find myself saving inspirational images to Notion. Instead of relying on Facebook or Linkedin to catalog my connections, I’ve been building my own relationship tracker in Notion.

Like the living room, Notion appeals to both the introverted and extroverted sides of my personality. It’s a place where I can create and test things out in private. Then, when I’m craving some external validation, I can show off a part of my workspace to as many or as few people as I want. It’s a place where I can think out loud without worrying about the judgement of strangers or the tracking of ad targeting tools.

Notion is the living room of the cozyweb by by Nick deWilde

Exhausted by my own doomscrolling, I recently pledged to myself to spend less time on social media. But I still had a scribbling habit that needed to be maintained. I found myself researching why so many of the few remaining bloggers that I knew were so obsessed with Notion and other tools that were unfamiliar to me.

It’s the worldwideweb. Let’s share what we know.

The tools of the notearazzi

Notion describes itself as ‘the all-in-one workspace’ for all of “your notes, tasks, and wikis”. That sounds more compelling than the the way that I would describe it: Notion allows you to build workflows from documents using linked, invisible databases.

For example, here is a set of pages that can be arranged as a task board, a kaban board, a calendar, or a list, just by changing your view of the information at hand.

(In this way Notion reminds me of Drupal except all of the database scaffolding is invisible to the user.)

There are other note taking tools that promise to revolutionize the work and the workflow of the user: Roam Research (that turns your “graph connected” notes into a ‘second brain’), RemNote (that turns your study notes into spaced repetition-flashcards), and Obsidian (that turns your markdown notes into a personal wiki / second brain on your computer).

And there is still Evernote.

Personal Knowledge Management

These types of note-taking systems are also known as personal knowledge management or PKM.

https://mobile.twitter.com/Bopuc/status/1305469230725431296

The Digital Garden

From the above diagram, you can see that PKM systems are also called Digital Gardens. Patrick Tanguay wrote a short backgrounder on this concept with a great set of links to explore.

In short: brief notes from your own thinking, heavily linked back and forth, continually added to and edited.

The goal is to have a library of notes of your own thinking so you can build upon what you read and write, creating your own ideas, advancing your knowledge.

Digital Gardens, Patrick Tanguay

The word garden was chosen carefully to describe this concept. We find ourselves in a world in which almost all of our social media systems are algorithm-influenced streams. To find the contemplative space we need to think, we need to find a slower landscape.

Remember a couple months ago when I wrote about Matt Caulfield’s alternative to CRAAP called SIFT? Well, I’m invoking him again for his 2015 post called The Garden and the Stream: A Technopastoral.

I don’t want people to get hung up on the technology angle. I think sometimes people hear “Federated Thingamabob” and just sort of tune out thinking “Oh, he’s talking about a feature of Federated Thingamabob.” But I’m not. I’m really not. I’m talking about a different way to think your online activity, no matter what tool you use. And relevant to this conference, I’m talking about a different way of collaborating as well.

Without going to much into what my federated wiki journal is, just imagine that instead of blogging and tweeting your experience you wiki’d it. And over time the wiki became a representation of things you knew, connected to other people’s wikis about things they knew.

So when I see an article like this I think — Wow, I don’t have much in my wiki about gun control, this seems like a good start to build it out and I make a page.

The first thing I do is “de-stream” the article. The article is about Oregon, but I want to extract a reusable piece out of it in a way that it can be connected to many different things eventually. I want to make a home page for this idea or fact. My hub for thinking about this.

The Garden and the Stream: A Technopastoral, Mike Caulfield

I used to think of blog posts as part of a growing garden, but my framing has shifted and now I think of the blog as the headwaters of the first sluggish stream (and the beginning of the end of the web as we know it):

Whereas the garden is integrative, the Stream is self-assertive. It’s persuasion, it’s argument, it’s advocacy. It’s personal and personalized and immediate. It’s invigorating. And as we may see in a minute it’s also profoundly unsuited to some of the uses we put it to.

The stream is what I do on Twitter and blogging platforms. I take a fact and project it out as another brick in an argument or narrative or persona that I build over time, and recapitulate instead of iterate.

The Garden and the Stream: A Technopastoral, Mike Caulfield

Caulfield alludes to the associative power of links after he compares the original vision of Vannevar Bush’s MEMEX and the topology of the World Wide Web:

Each memex library contains your original materials and the materials of others. There’s no read-only version of the memex, because that would be silly. Anything you read you can link and annotate. Not reply to, mind you. Change. This will be important later.

Links are associative. This is a huge deal. Links are there not only as a quick way to get to source material. They aren’t a way to say, hey here’s the interesting thing of the day. They remind you of the questions you need to ask, of the connections that aren’t immediately evident.

Links are made by readers as well as writers. A stunning thing that we forget, but the link here is not part of the author’s intent, but of the reader’s analysis. The majority of links in the memex are made by readers, not writers. On the world wide web of course, only an author gets to determine links. And links inside the document say that there can only be one set of associations for the document, at least going forward.

The Garden and the Stream: A Technopastoral, Mike Caulfield

Mike Cauldfield’s own digital garden was a personal wiki and there some reader/writers who have opted to go this route using Tiddlywiki or a variation.

There is no one way to grow your own digital garden. Gardens are personal and they grow to suit the space and time that you are able to give them. There are digital gardens that are wild and overgrown like a verdant English garden and then there are the closely controlled and manicured gardens known as BASB.

The Second Brain

BASB stands for Building A Second Brain. Unlike our own feeble wetware, these BASB systems exist so we do not forget passing notions. They are also promoted as environments that lend themselves to creative thinking because, just like our own minds, they encourage the generation of new thoughts by the association of disparate ideas from different fields, places, or times.

To be honest, during most of the time I spent researching for this post, every time I read the phrase second brain, I immediately dismissed it as glib marketing and not as a concept worth serious considering. But then I watched a YouTube video of a medical student who had taken a $1500 course on building brain building and he could not stop singing its praises.

From that video, I learned that Second Brain building wasn’t just making links between concepts and waiting for creativity to descend or a book to emerge. The framing of the activities that it prescribes are closer to a Project Management System in which efforts are directly ultimately to outcomes and outputs. That system is also known as PARA.

Image from: Building a Second Brain: The Illustrated Notes by Maggie Appleton

Not every building a second brain (BASB) system is build on the foundations of PARA. There are those who decide to populate their new Roam Research space using the Smart Note system or the Zettelkasten approach.

Zettelkasten

When I was doing research for my 2015 Access talk about index cards and bibliographic systems, I dimly remember coming across the note taking system of sociologist Niklas Luhmann which turned into a 90,000+ card zettelkasten into over 70 books. I distinctly remember coming across the system again when I was reading about Beck Trench’s Academic Workflow:

I use the Zettelkasten method of note-taking, by which I mean that I create notes that contain a single idea or point that is significant to me. These notes are usually linked to other notes, authors, and citations, allowing me to understand that single idea in the context of the larger literature that I’m exploring. I use the knowledge management software Tinderbox to write these notes and map their associations. I’ve created a series of videos that explain exactly how I do this. I also sync my Tinderbox zettels with DEVONthink using these scripts so that I can search my own notes alongside my articles to find connections I might otherwise miss.

Academic Workflow: Reading, Beck Trench

From what I can tell, many people’s first introduction to the zettelkasten method has been through this website or the 2017 book How to Take Smart Notes by Sonke Ahrens (2017). I haven’t read the book yet but I was so intrigued that I have ordered a copy. From a review of the work:

The book is written in an essayistic and very readable style, humorous and anecdotal, which makes both the practical advice as well as the underlying philosophy very accessible and convincing. Ahrens offers a compelling meta-reflection on the pivotal role of writing in – and as – thinking, and as such, he also formulates a timely and important advocacy of the humanities. It is therefore regrettable that in his emphasis on proliferating personal productivity and ‘boosting’ written output with Luhmann’s slip box system, Ahrens neglects to critically reflect upon the luring dangers of academic careerism for truly original scholarship… The explosion of publishing outlets is in turn tightly connected with the increasing governmentalization and commodification of academic life (Miller 2015), and while Ahrens continually emphasizes the potential of increasing written output with Luhmann’s method, he unfortunately misses the opportunity to reflect on the very conditions of academic life that create a demand for a book like his own in the first place.

Book review: How to Take Smart Notes, Reviewed by Melanie Schiller, Journal of Writing Research (2017)

How might academic libraries figure into these systems

While keeping in mind that the knowledge workers who commit strongly to a holistic note-taking system are a minority of our patrons, how can academic libraries support those students, faculty, and academic staff who use specialized note-taking software?

Personally, I think at a minimum, we must try to keep as much of our material as copy-able as possible. In other words, we should keep our investments in DRM-locked material as small possible.

But I’ll boil it down to this. It came down to who had the power to change things. It came down to the right to make copies.

On the web, if you wanted to read something you had to read it on someone else’s server where you couldn’t rewrite it, and you couldn’t annotate it, you couldn’t copy it, and you couldn’t add links to it, you couldn’t curate it.

These are the verbs of gardening, and they didn’t exist on the early web.

The Garden and the Stream: A Technopastoral, Mike Caulfield

What might happen if we try on the idea that a library is a type of stock that both readers and writers can draw upon for their respective knowledge flow.

Stock and flow are just different ways of expressing garden and stream. Mike Caulfield looks at OER in this context and I found this framing as very useful.

Everything else is either journal articles or blog posts making an argument about local subsidies. Replying to someone. Building rapport with their audience. Making a specific point about a specific policy. Embedded in specific conversations, specific contexts.

Everybody wants to play in the Stream, but no one wants to build the Garden.

Our traditional binary here is “open vs. closed”. But honestly that’s not the most interesting question to me anymore. I know why textbook companies are closed. They want to make money.

What is harder to understand is how in nearly 25 years of the web, when people have told us what they THINK about local subsidies approximately one kajillion times we can’t find one — ONE! — syllabus-ready treatment of the issue.

You want ethics of networked knowledge? Think about that for a minute — how much time we’ve all spent arguing, promoting our ideas, and how little time we’ve spent contributing to the general pool of knowledge.

Why? Because we’re infatuated with the stream, infatuated with our own voice, with the argument we’re in, the point we’re trying to make, the people in our circle we’re talking to.

The Garden and the Stream: A Technopastoral, Mike Caulfield

Conclusion

A scholar reads texts from the library and thoughtfully creates personal notes from their reading. Those notes grow, get connected to other notes, help generate new notes and associations, and, in time, help generate the scholar’s own text that — hopefully — will become part of that same library. “A scholar is just a library’s way of making another library” (Daniel C. Dennett, Consciousness Explained).

Once again, it makes me wonder whether our institutions should consider adopting the professional mission that Dan Chudnov made for himself in 2006: Help people build their own libraries.

Because those scholar’s notes? They are also a library.

Blogging is dead… here are some tips to manage your online working environment

Blogging is dead. Blogging as an ecosystem of blogrolls, blog rings, blog planets, RSS readers, and writers who link and respond to each other… it is long gone. Most people don’t even know that this network once existed, once thrived, and then was lost.

That being said, I still believe blogging is good. Blogging can be personally meaningful and professionally useful and blogging can still be powerful. Small communities of bloggers still exist in niches, like food blogs.

But in many ways, the once mighty blog post has been reduced to being a fall-back longer form entry that is meant to be carried and shared by social media. Most of my own traffic comes indirectly. Last month a post of mine received over 1000 reads in a day – with almost all traffic coming from Facebook. But as I can’t follow back the trail, I have no idea who shared the link to my blog or why.

I have also seen blog posts being shared from author to reader to reader-once-removed via newsletter. When a particular article resonates, you can sometimes see it appear in a new newsletter every week, each recommendation like a ripple in a pond — a little bit of text pushing the readership of a piece of writing just a bit wider than the original audience.

While I get a rush of serotonin every time something I write resonates with readers who share my writing, I still want to write work that decidedly isn’t mean to resonate with a wide audience. I still want to have a place where I can write and share posts that might be useful to some readers.

What I’m trying to say is, I want to share a boring bit of writing now and I know it’s boring and I want you to know that I’m aware that it’s boring.

I have two recommended practices that I would like to share with those who might find it useful as many of us are now working in a always online environment. These practices have worked for me and they might work for you. (Your mileage may vary. All advice is autobiographical.)

The first practice is one that I saw recommended by Dave Cormier and I was so pleased to see his recommendation, because I do that thing and it felt very validating. That suggested practice is to always keep a window open to a screen – for you it might be a word document, but for me, it’s a Google Document – in which you keep available for any time you need to drop a note or a link or an idea to return to later.

There are many people who have amazing systems to manage their online ‘to do’ lists but I have found that creating a next action for every interest and facet of my person (as a librarian, as a mom, as a reader, as someone trying to eat healthier, as a gardener…) as too much for me. Instead, I have found sustained success in the much more low-key logbook. I have one for work and one for home.

On February 19, 2019, I created a Work Log google doc. I know this because I started with a H2 heading of February 19, 2019 and then added a series of bullet points of what I had done that day. Sometimes I drop links to matters that I need to read or follow up on. And when there’s something that I need to do and I don’t want to forget it, I add three asterisks *** so I can go back and Control-F my log into a Todo list. The next day, I add the new date at the top of the page and begin again. And that’s it. That’s my system. It’s like I’m perpetually stuck on step one of proper bullet journaling.

The second suggestion is a practice that I’m setting up right now, which is why I was inspired to write this blog post in the first place.

On July 1st, my workplace transitions to the next working year. For the last ten years now, I use the year’s roll over as an opportunity to create a new folder in my Inbox for the upcoming year’s work. This year the folder reads .2020-2021

I learned this technique when I accidentally saw the screen of my colleague and saw how she organized her email. I have to admit, I was first sort of shocked by this approach. Why create nesting folders of email by year? Why not work on creating folders by subject? ARE WE NOT LIBRARIANS?

But this is the thing. Even librarians cannot know a priori what categories are going to be useful in the future. Rather than create a file system that works for you for a while but then slowly, slowly grows to become, over the years, a misshapen file tree of deep sub-folders and dead main branches… consider starting new. Considering starting a new inbox from scratch every calendar year. And don’t create a single sub-folder within that folder until you receive an email that needs to be put away, and if doesn’t have a place already that makes sense, create a place for that kind of email.

At the very least, for a new short months, everything will feel findable and understandable and it will feel wonderful. That is, if you live a life as boring as mine.

Maybe this is the real feature that separates blogging from social media: it’s the place where we can be boring.

Could you make history?

It started out with a dab. My son let me know that he dabs on the haters. I retorted that the dab is old news. It’s sooooo old… wait, how old is it now?

I looked up the origins of the dab. And then I made a version of Timeline of dance moves using index cards for for my kids to play.

The game didn’t take long to make and it didn’t take long to play. My kiddos now know that the Macarena is very old but not nearly as old as The YMCA.

Timeline (Diversity) – from Board Game Geek

Timeline is a great game that I recommend to pretty much anyone looking for a simple card game that can be played by a group of people. Unlike many trivia games, Timeline allows players to guess and as most of us are not historians, there is a lot of guessing involved. I have had much success playing Timeline as a casual and fun game with university students. There is some risk that a player might tease another for a particular gap in their knowledge, but all games based on shared knowledge comes with this risk.

The rules are very straightforward. Each card in a Timeline deck has a description of an event on one side and a description and a date on the other. To start the game, players are dealt four cards with their dates sides hidden. Then a card from the deck is played on the table with the date side revealed.

The youngest player begins the game and their task is to select a card from their four and then to place that card either as ‘before’ or ‘after’ the card on the table. After their decision is made, their card is turned over so that the date will show whether the player was correct. If they are correct, the card remains and the next player starts their turn. If the player is incorrect, the card is sent to a discard pile and the player draws a new card from the deck. As the game progresses, the timeline of cards on the table gets longer and playing cards can be more difficult. The first player who successfully plays all their cards wins the game.

Even if you don’t own the game, you can play Timeline for free as there is short demo version of Timeline Classic is available from this collection of Print and Play games made freely available for these unprecedented times.

You can make your own version with pen and paper. Or you can get fancy and using card making software such as nanDeck which allows you to create PDFs of printable cards using a spreadsheet of data and some code to format the cards.

screenshot of my nanDeck generated deck of Windsor-Timeline

I think asking students to make their own version of a game using the Timeline mechanic would make for a good history assignment. I think this for two reasons. First, like many educational games, the person who often learns the most from the experience is the game designer.

The family that playtests together…

And secondly, I think combining all the students different decks of their various history projects would make for a remarkable game of Timeline. That’s because what a good game of Timeline does is to help us integrate our various understandings of knowledge together and surprising us when history brings together disparate events into the same moment of time…

When pilgrims were landing on Plymouth Rock, you could already visit what is now Santa Fe, New Mexico to stay at a hotel, eat at a restaurant and buy Native American silver.

Prisoners began to arrive to Auschwitz a few days after McDonald’s was founded.

The first wagon train of the Oregon Trail heads out the same year the fax machine is invented.

Nintendo was founded in 1888. Jack the Ripper was on the loose in 1888.

1912 saw the maiden voyage of the Titanic as well as the birth of vitamins, x-ray crystallography, and MDMA.

1971: The year in which America drove a lunar buggy on the moon and Switzerland gave women the vote.

from Unlikely Simultaneous Historical Events, kottke.org

Timeline knows this, which is why their packaging asks these questions: Could Darwin drink champagne? Could Queen Victoria take the London Underground? Did Einstein wear jeans? And perhaps, most importantly, Did Cleopatra play cards?

I feel I could create an entire Timeline deck of what happened in 2020 and I still think I would get most of the cards misplaced.

The Provenance of Facts

Brian Feldman has a newsletter called BNet and on May 30th, he published an insightful and whimsical take on facts and Wikipedia called mysteries of the scatman.

The essay is an excellent reminder that if a fact without proper provenance makes it way into Wikipedia and is then published in a reputable source, it is nearly impossible to remove said fact from Wikipedia.

Both the Scatman John and “Maps” issues, however, point to a looming vulnerability in the system. What happens when facts added early on in Wikipedia’s life remain, and take on a life of their own? Neither of these supposed truths outlined above can be traced to any source outside of Wikipedia, and yet, because they initially appeared on Wikipedia and have been repeated elsewhere, they are now, for all intents and purposes, accepted as truth on Wikipedia. It’s twisty.

mysteries of the scatman

This is not a problem of only Wikipedia. Last year I addressed a similar issue in an Information Literacy class for 4th year Political Science students when I encouraged students to follow the citation pathways of the data that they plan to cite. I warned them not to fall for academic urban legends:

Spinach is not an exceptional nutritional source of iron. The leafy green has iron, yes, but not much more than you’d find in other green vegetables. And the plant contains oxalic acid, which inhibits iron absorption.

Why, then, do so many people believe spinach boasts such high iron levels? Scholars committed to unmasking spinach’s myths have long offered a story of academic sloppiness. German chemists in the 1930s misplaced a decimal point, the story goes. They thus overestimated the plant’s iron content tenfold.

But this story, it turns out, is apocryphal. It’s another myth, perpetuated by academic sloppiness of another kind. The German scientists never existed. Nor did the decimal point error occur. At least, we have no evidence of either. Because, you see, although academics often see themselves as debunkers, in skewering one myth they may fall victim to another.

In his article “Academic Urban Legends,” Ole Bjorn Rekdal, an associate professor of health and social sciences at Bergen University College in Norway, narrates the story of these twinned myths. His piece, published in the journal Social Studies of Science, argues that through chains of sloppy citations, “academic urban legends” are born. Following a line of lazily or fraudulently employed references, Rekdal shows how rumor can become acknowledged scientific truth, and how falsehood can become common knowledge.

Academic Urban Legends“, Charlie Tyson, Inside Higher Ed, August 6, 2014

I’m in the process of working on an H5P learning object dedicated to how to calculate one’s H-Index and yet, I’m conflicted about doing so. There are many reasons why using citations as a measure of an academic’s value is problematic for reasons far beyond the occasional academic urban legend:

To weed out academic urban legends, Rekdal says editors “should crack down violently on every kind of abuse of academic citations, such as ornamental but meaningless citations to the classics, or exchanges in citation clubs where the members pump up each other’s impact factors and h-indexes.”

Yet even Rekdal – who debunks the debunkers – says his citation record isn’t flawless.

“I have to admit that I published an article two decades ago where I included an academically completely meaningless reference (without page numbers of course) to a paper written by a woman I was extremely in love with,” he said. “I am still a little ashamed of what I did. But on the other hand, the author of that paper has now been my wife for more than 20 years.”

Academic Urban Legends“, Charlie Tyson, Inside Higher Ed, August 6, 2014

The future of Big Te(a)ch

Last week, my place of work announced that the university campus was going to be primarily online for the upcoming fall semester. From my understanding, the qualifier of primarily is being used because there are some professional programs that have compulsory in-person components such as in clinical nursing.

Replicating hands-on or lab components of classes are a particular challenge in the present moment. How do you replace what an anatomy class might mean to a medical student? When you are training students to do work in a chemistry lab, what do you do when you no longer have a lab to work in?

I have taken my fair share of lab courses and, to be honest, I recall many of them were stressful. I always felt the pressure of being on the clock and having to finish a series of steps towards an outcome that was unclear to me. To be honest, young me would have preferred the option of watching a lab instructor with a go-pro strapped to their forehead, going through the experiment on my behalf.

But watching another person complete a jigsaw puzzle is not the same as doing the jigsaw puzzle yourself.

How can we create rich, online or at-home experiences with choice and agency?

One answer is, The Future of Big Tech.

It’s not the future you think I mean. I’m referring to the 10 minute game The Future of Big Tech which available as pay-as-you-can from Coney’s Pop-Up Playhouse [from the menu, click on : 2+ Players > The Future of Big Tech]

Coney is a UK-based interactive theatre group whose work I’ve been casually following for some years now. I’ve only recently started exploring their online options. This past weekend, I played Big Tech Future with my kids and I really appreciated the opportunity to have a conversation of what the experience meant to them afterwards.

screenshot from The Future of Big Tech

I’m being vague here because I really don’t want to spoil the experience as it is one that you really should try. But if you are feeling apprehensive about putting on your headphones and diving in, I will tell you a bit of what you can expect.

Once you choose your character, you will hear a short description of who you are and how you live in a particular future. You will pick up a phone call and during the call, you will be given choices to make. There are no loud or sudden disturbing noises during the call and the game ends in under ten minutes.

The voice acting is very good. I’m adding it as evidence in my ‘augmented experiences are better than virtual ones‘ file.

I’m so impressed how much this game achieves in such a short time. I also appreciate that the designers recognized that by dividing the experience into two, the game creates an easy entry into conversation afterwards, as each participant will want to ask the other for their side of the story.

It truly belongs on a syllabi.

It’s time to cut the CRAAP

I do not have a good understanding of what academic librarians are currently teaching students in regards to evaluating information they find on the Internet. Rather than read the literature, I searched for the word CRAAP in my custom Google Search Engine for Ontario Academic Libraries. I found that many libraries – including my own place of work – advocate the use of the CRAAP checklist-approach to evaluating information found online.

I have never been particularly enthusiastic about the CRAAP checklist approach to evaluating information and I know that I’m not the only librarian who feels this way. But until recently, if you had asked me what I would suggest as an alternative, I would have struggled to articulate the structure of what to replace it.

As my last series of posts can attest, I have been recently creating creative-commons licensed learning objects with H5P through eCampus Ontario. I am doing so because in these unprecedented times much of the teaching on the university campus has transitioned to asynchronous online learning and as such, I believe that my teaching should transition as well.

This week, I made this short presentation introducing the reader to two methods that I think should replace the use of the CRAAP checklist.

This presentation introduces the reader to the COR (Civic Online Reasoning) Curriculum and the SIFT Method. Both are comprised of a short series of steps to help the reader separate fact from fiction on the Internet. Both methods are built from the strategies employed by professional fact-checkers.

Mike Caulfield, who created and advocates for the SIFT method, has explained why the CRAAP checklist is insufficient in these two interviews that are best read in full: “Getting Beyond the CRAAP Test: A Conversation with Mike Caulfield” and “Truth Is in the Network” from Project Information Literacy.

I also found his post, A Short History of CRAAP as particularly enlightening. My jaw dropped a bit at this particular connection:

So when the web came into being, library staff, tasked with teaching students web literacy, began to teach students how to use collection development criteria they had learned in library science programs. The first example of this I know of is Tate & Alexander’s 1996 paper which outlines a lesson plan using the “traditional evaluation criteria of accuracy, authority, objectivity, currency, and coverage.” ….

… So let’s keep that in mind as we consider what to do in the future: contrary to public belief we did teach students online information literacy. It’s just that we taught them methodologies that were developed to decide whether to purchase reference sets for libraries

A Short History of CRAAP

Perhaps this is the reason why librarians have such a hard time letting go of this particular approach.

The Librarian as DJ

On Saturday night I had a Zoom call with a friend of mine from high school. My friend prefaced our chat with a warning that she was going to keep the conversation short because video calls are exhausting. I heartily agreed. During this call, my daughter and her son would grace our screens and through them, excitedly shared what game-spaces in Roblox they go to play and hangout in, with their friends.

This difference between exhaustion and joy struck me. I didn’t think it was because of any particular characteristic of our respective generations, but I couldn’t entirely place why the reactions were so very different. But then on Sunday morning, during the time in which I dedicate to my longreads collected from a week’s worth of tweets and newsletters, I found an answer that made a lot sense to me.

That essay was Home Screens by Drew Austin from the web publication, Real Life. After I finished, I promptly took to twitter to share my recommendation for everyone to read it. Here’s a passage from it, dedicated to Zoom:

Pure economic exchanges can relocate to screen interactions with a minimal loss of fidelity, but encounters meant to be less instrumental are proving harder to sustain without the texture of physical space. Most of the apps we use for interaction simply unbundle an informational component from the scene of social contact. This was sufficient under ordinary circumstances, when messaging and video conferencing apps merely complemented in-person exchanges. But now those tools leave users wanting more, failing to substitute the richness and depth that interaction in physical space could otherwise provide.

Consider, for example, the video-conferencing platform Zoom. During the quarantine’s first few weeks, it emerged as a flexible (albeit insecure) tool for conducting interactions that could no longer happen face to face, rapidly expanding beyond its established domain of business meetings to accommodate gatherings ranging from happy hours to dinner parties to dates. But rather than providing support for adjacent activities, as an app like Slack does for office work, Zoom replaces those activities altogether. In other words, users experience Zoom more as a stultified form of virtual reality than an augmented one, because it feels as though there is very little off-screen reality available to augment right now.

Drew Austin, Home Screens, Real Life, April 27th, 2020

I’m writing about this essay on this blog rather than my more technology focused outlet, because I want to start exploring this understanding that there is something fundamentally different between ‘virtual libraries’ and ‘augmented libraries’.

In Home Screens, Austin draws on one of my favourite written works from last year:

In How to Do Nothing, Jenny Odell makes an eloquent case for the importance of place as a site of non-transactional human relations. As an example, she describes how, for many, public transportation is “the last non-transactional space in which we are regularly thrown together with a diverse set of strangers, all of whom have different destinations for different reasons.” She goes on to summarize Louis Althusser’s contention that true societies can emerge only within spatial constraints, where individuals live in bounded proximity without the ability to easily disperse. In such settings, individuals have no choice but to encounter one another repeatedly and establish durable connections based upon a firmer foundation than the exchange value those relationships promise. This represents a quite different logic than that of an app that enables hiring random (and often unseen) strangers to perform tasks for us at a social distance.

Another non-transactional space in which residents are regularly thrown together with a diverse set of strangers, all of whom have different ‘destinations’ for different reasons, is the library.

I don’t mean to spoil the concluding passages of Joanne McNeil’s Lurking: How a Person Became a User, but I can’t ignore the connection that I see here:

Librarians are what the internet is aching for — people on task to care about the past, with respect to the past and also to what it shall bequeath to the future. There needs to be rituals in place online to treat people — users — with dignity, both for the living and the dead. For to speak of the humanity of internet users is to recognize the impermanence, the mortality of that humanity.

Everyone is welcome in a library just for being. A person in a library is a person: homeless or not, hurting or not. My dream for the internet, as a final form, is a civic and independent body, where all people are welcomed and respected, guided by principles of justice, rights, and human dignity. For this, users would express care in return, with a sense of purpose and responsibility to the digital spaces organized with these values. With the internet routing through a planet that is the origin of more than a hundred billion lives, such a project means information in abundance. Segmenting and clustering users and history into communities, rather than mass-purpose platforms, would be an integral component to this ideal internet in its cycles of maintenance and renewal.

Joanne McNail, Lurking: How a Person Became a User, 2020.

I have added the above to my file of technology writers who suggest that the future of the internet needs librarians and the public library become an ISP.

I haven’t been a public librarian in over twenty years now, so I am going to limit the following thoughts on augmented vs virtual library space in an academic library context.

First, let us consider that more students come to the library to study rather than to actively engage with library-provided materials, print or otherwise. Does this suggest that the academic library has a responsibility to provide online study space for students?

I think the answer might be yes — but not yet. I don’t believe academic libraries can provide online spaces for students to share what they’re learning in the current state of teaching and assessment in the University. Let us remember that it wasn’t that long ago when Canadian Universities equated creating virtual study spaces on Facebook with cheating. Let us be aware that not enough has changed since 2009, and that some faculty are quite happy to hold students under constant surveillance rather than risk a drop in ‘academic vigor’.

The most notable experiment in creating the library as a virtual space were the Libraries of Second Life. In the current moment, the virtual spaces where people gather are within Minecraft, Fortnite, Roblox, and Animal Crossing.

But let’s not think of virtual spaces. Let’s not try to reimagine the library through an Oculus Rift. Let’s try to start with something a little manageable. Something a little more humane.

Let’s take a psychogeographic approach, as suggested by my colleague Devon Mordell:

With our ability to roam the physical environment necessarily compromised, our platforms – Netflix, Instagram, Twitter, Spotify, etc. etc. – have taken on an even greater significance as the sites of our work and leisure. But how do we inhabit them in psychogeographic terms, as virtual spaces that shape our behaviours and emotions? Is it possible to find alternative paths to the passive consumption modalities that a data-driven culture industry expects of us? Can we amble through our platforms in ways unforeseen by their designers? And understand their infrastructures better through our experiments and investigations?

Ergo, a psychogeographical approach to platform studies as a means to engage with these infrastructures in novel ways (please note: I am not a licensed psychogeographer).

Tactics for resisting platform passivity, Devon Mordell, 2020

It delights me to no end that Devon published the above as I was writing the draft of this post because I also want to speculate that perhaps we should investigate sound as a platform (please note: I am a licensed psychogeographer).

What if every library offered its own version of lofi hip hop radio – beats to relax/study to? [explainer]

What if your librarian was also your DJ? What could a campus-scaled call-in show sound-like? Would you feel less alone if the DJ gave you a shout-out?