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.