Weeknote 48 (2020)

§1

First off is this recommended read from the November 17th issue of The New Yorker, The rise and fall of getting things done by Cal ‘Deep Work’ Newport. As Newport himself describes his work,

It’s not, however, really about David Allen’s productivity system, which longtime readers (and listeners) know I really admire. It’s instead about a deeper question that I hadn’t heard discussed much before: Why do we leave office workers to figure out on their own how to get things done?

With the notable exception of agile software development teams, companies in this sector largely leave decisions about how work is assigned, reviewed, and organized up to individuals. We promulgate clear objectives and construct motivating corporate cultures, but when it comes to actually executing these tasks, we just hook everyone up to an email address or Slack channel and tell them to rock and roll. This has led to a culture of overload and fragmented attention that makes everyone involved miserable.

I don’t want to spoil the conclusions of this article, but I will tip you off that I’m filling this article away in my notebook about visualizing workflow.

§2

I discovered this work from CARL’s e-alert newsletter, Thinking Politically About Scholarly Infrastructure (A.J. Boston, LPC Blog – Fellows Journal, November 12). Parts of it hit a little too close to home for my liking…

I’m sure I’m being unfair in my stance. To capture a diverse constituency, a big-tent approach can be effective. Compromise can cause cynicism about our politics, but sometimes a little progress can be better than a lot of regression. That’s the story I’ve told myself, at least, while making my daily compromise as a ScholComm librarian who manages our Elsevier-owned institutional repository service, Digital Commons. My school contracted with bepress (then an independent company) shortly before hiring me to manage it, and my values felt fully aligned as I made the pitch across campus to deposit green OA manuscripts there. But that feeling changed with the announcement of Elsevier acquiring bepress in August 2017 (MacKenzie, 2017).

Since 2017, the Digital Commons service hasn’t worsened, but the premise that many customers initially bought into, of supporting an independent platform in the scholarly communication ecosystem, has eroded. And what do people do when they face a deterioration of goods and services? For A.O. Hirschman (1970), there are three choices (which later scholars have revised upon): exit, voice, and loyalty. In my case, exit seems out of the question: a diverse constituency of groups on my campus have now integrated the software, and a swap would be overly-costly and damage relationships in the process. I don’t know whether I’d categorize what I am doing now as voice or loyalty, but what I do know is that there is a strong glimmer of recognition when Sen. Harris walks her fracking-issue tightrope, or when grant-funding institutions rock the boat just lightly enough that it doesn’t risk a capsize.

§3

Also from aforementioned e-alert,

AAP and CCC End Georgia State ‘E-Reserves’ Copyright Litigation (P. Anderson, Publishing Perspectives, November 12)

After a 12-year fight, the Association of American Publishers and Copyright Clearance Center have declined to pursue any further appeals in their lawsuit against Georgia State University regarding their reliance on fair use in making materials available via e-reserves. Read more @pubperspectives 

I used to refer to the Georgia State E-Reserves case as an example of selective enforcement of copyright by publishers in which educational use of works behind an authentication system was vigorously challenged in court, while rampant open distribution of works under copyright via Academia.edu and ResearchGate was ignored for years.

§4

I only read the headline and the abstract of this article but I am sharing it anyway because I liked the conclusion that Tyler Cowan [ht] drew from it: Open access improves the quality of citations.

§5

Earlier this week Hugh Rundle published a blog post called Empathy Daleks that gave me life:

Her studies indicate that diversifying the authors, perspectives, representations and examples in standard textbooks is not simply “more inclusive” or “just” in an abstract way (though that would be good anyway). Students who feel they belong — who feel validated as members or potential members of a profession or academic discipline — are more likely to succeed and complete their degrees. That is, Lambert suggests that diversifying the authors and even the examples or hypothetical actors in university textbooks by itself has a positive effect on completion rates, engagement, and student satisfaction with courses. Amy Nusbaum shows in a recent article that OER is an effective way to accelerate this, because with licenses allowing “remixing” of content the examples used within open textbooks can be updated to suit local needs without having to rewrite the entire text….

But it was Lambert uttering the magic words about diverse texts improving “student success” that suddenly felt quite subversive. To understand why, we need to interrogate what universities usually mean when they talk about “student success”, and particularly the infrastructures universities have been building around it.

Hugh Rundle, Empathy Daleks, November 23, 2020

And on that note… I liked this tweet about university rankings some days ago.

Speaking of society-focused agendas, while I was doing some of the more rote collection development tasks this week (reviewing lists of duplicate titles, finding missing titles that were of need of replacing), I listened to a number of episodes of Terry Greene’s Getting Air: The Open Pedagogy podcast and I enjoyed them very much. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and spending time with some of the guests on his show and it is such a treat to hear them speak about the careful thought and thoughtful care they put into their work of teaching.

Weeknote 47 (2020)

I had a staycation last week. It took me two days just to catch up on email I received while I was gone. And the only reason I was able to do that in two days is because I had booked the days off as meeting-free so I could attend an online conference.

Said conference was the 2020 Indigenous Mapping Workshop. I was not able to attend many of the sessions but the ones that I did rekindled my affection for web-maps and inspired me to make two proof-of-concept maps.

The first one is of bike parking in my neighbourhood. The location and photos were collected using a web form through Kobotoolbox.

I then downloaded a csv from the site and paired with this leaflet-omnivore powered map.

Bike parking in my neighbourhood

The second map I made was a more mischievous creation in which I used Mapbox Studio to rename the world.


Other things I did this week: chair our monthly Information Services Department meeting, selected a set of duplicate books as part of a larger weeding project, ordered a lot of books using ExLibris’ Rialto, did a LibraryChat shift, contributed to some collection management work, did some OJS support, attended several meetings, and wrote many emails.


One day I would like write a piece that applies the concept of technical debt to library services / the library as an organization.


I didn’t do much reading this week but I did read one article which I think has an exceptional title: Public Libraries Are Doing Just Fine, Thank You: It’s the “Public” in Public Libraries That is Threatened


This is a project that is close to my civic interests:

Introducing the Civic Switchboard Data Literacy Project!

We’re pleased to announce the receipt of an IMLS Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program Grant, which will support the next piece of Civic Switchboard project – the Civic Switchboard Data Literacy project! This project builds on the Civic Switchboard project’s exploration of civic data roles for libraries and will develop instructional materials to prepare MLIS students and current library workers for civic data work.

Through the Civic Switchboard project, we’ve learned about common barriers to entry that libraries are navigating with civic data work. We regularly heard library workers say that they feel unqualified to participate in their civic data ecosystems. With this barrier in mind, the Civic Switchboard Data Literacy project will build and pilot instructional material that MLIS instructors can integrate in coursework and that can be used in professional development training in library settings.

Weeknote 45 (2020)

Some things I was up to this past week:

  1. I registered for the Indigenous Mapping Workshop which will run Nov. 16-18;
  2. had meetings pertaining to servers and surveys;
  3. attended regular meetings including that of the University Library Advisory Committee, Leddy Library Department Heads, my bi-weekly meeting with Library Admin, and the WUFA Grievance Committee
  4. uploaded another batch of ETDs to the repository
  5. uploaded another batch of final edits to the OSSA Conference repository
  6. ordered books that have gone missing from the library (including Steal Like an Artist natch) as well titles to support the School of the Environment
  7. discussed APCs, video streaming, and the potential structure of the new Leddy Library website with various colleagues;
  8. and did an evening shift of our LiveChat Research Help service.

I don’t think I’ve said this publicly but the weekly updates from the CARL e-alert newsletter are excellent and are put together so well. From last week’s alert, I learned of this amazing project:

Community members living in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) have been the focal point of countless scholarly research studies and surveys over the years. Up until recently, this research has remained largely out of reach to participants and community organizations, locked away in journals and other databases that require paid subscriptions to access. Community members have said they would benefit from access to that data for evaluating program and service effectiveness, for example, or for grant writing.

The recently launched Downtown Eastside Research Access Portal (DTES RAP), a project led by the UBC Learning Exchange in partnership with UBC Library’s Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, is designed to change that.

The DTES RAP provides access to research and research-related materials relevant to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside through an easy-to-use public interface. The portal was developed in consultation with DTES residents and community organizations through focus groups and user experience testing, and in collaboration with a number of university units.

New Downtown Eastside Research Access Portal takes collaborative approach to Open Access (UBC)

I love that this collection is centred around the needs of those who have been studied and not the needs of the researcher.

And not to center my own work but (BUT) I was hoping to explore similar work during my last sabbatical but for a variety of reasons, it did not come to pass.


No Weeknote update next week because I’m taking a staycation!

Weeknote 44 (2020)

This is my third week of weeknotes and I have to say that the format is agreeing with me. I did a quick search online to see if any other librarians have adopted this particular format and I couldn’t find anyone from the librarian profession so I have yet to become an influencer (*snerk*). I did find a data scientist from the House of Commons Library who employs the practice quite well. This is consistent with my hunch that the weeknotes format is still largely an expression of UK civic computing types.

Many people use weeknotes to report on their last week’s activities as its originator intended…

Started on the blog of design company BERG a few months back, Weeknotes detailed what they were up to that week, what had been going well, what hadn’t. They were just blog entries, updated weekly, nothing more remarkable than that. Except they struck a little chord with people — and other companies and individuals started doing the same thing.

Russell M Davies: On the structure of time, WIRED UK, 28 May 2010

For what it’s work, this is what I’ve been up to during the past week: worked with our cataloguing team to process a detailed shelf-reading list of our theses and dissertations, met with a small group of scholars who are working on establishing a new journal on our OJS system, helped a student with a thorny research question, collected and delivered a bibliography of works for the university’s anti-black racism office, worked on a draft statement of publication ethics for two of our OJS journals, worked on the reference chat schedule for the month, worked with colleagues on a potential survey, attended several online meetings, researched how we could promote our collections using online book-carousels, uploaded some of the final manuscripts of the OSSA conference, uploaded a batch of ETDs into our repository, and answered a truckload of email.

I’m not sure if I’m going to report on my workings every week. I’m more interested in using the weeknotes format to help me keep up with my reading.


Speaking of which, this morning I spent some time with the latest issue of portal: Libraries and the Academy which has a variety of articles that touch on the role of the library liaison and of digital scholarship.

I saved for later this excerpt from Survey of Digital Humanities Online Guides in Canadian Academic Research Libraries:

In The Digital Scholar, Martin Weller argues that new digital tools are “necessary, but not sufficient, for any substantial change in scholarly practice” that they might help to bring about.8 His contention is that for these technologies to be truly transformative, three factors must converge: digital content, networks, and openness. When high-quality scholarly content can be shared digitally via online networks without legal restrictions, we enter an era of scholarship—digital scholarship—that differs substantially from the traditional one. An amplification of the scope of available academic content and the ability to instantly publish and share one’s content online challenges the fundamental assumptions about the nature of scholarly practice. Along this line, Robin Goodfellow and Mary Lea define digital scholarship as “the relatively recent invention of cross-disciplinary groups of individual scholars … who have begun to use technology to disseminate their own work outside the formal academic publishing system.”9

For at least the last twenty years, the academic library has been licensing collections of digital objects from commercial vendors for the private use of those only belonging to the campus. The work to maintain these collections is considered the work of a electronic resources librarian and is not considered digital scholarship. Expanding a bit from what I read from the above, digital scholarship is used to designate labour that is dedicated to the transformation of scholarship by making available collections of material openly licensed on the Internet and structured for use and re-use at both the item level and at the level in which the collection itself is data. As a scholcomm librarian, I particularly like this framing.


Also, as a scholcomm librarian, I appreciated and enjoyed this presentation on the promise and peril of transformative agreements by Brianne Selman.


🎃 Happy Hallowe’en! 🎃

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.