What features make it easier?

Do you notice the seams in your socks?

Are there any to notice? Your coffee mug handle, fit nicely in your hand? Clearing that paper jam without saying, “What do you mean paper still stuck?” Does your RSS reader make it easy to forward cool stuff? How about a planner? Paper or electrons? What’s easier for you? Just how hard is it to design a handle for a door? Product designers are ever more interested in understanding psychology, why? What do you bookmark with? Yes, your actual bookmarks for actual physical books. Love how you don’t have to think about <what>?

(**I dog-ear-highlight crease-underline-note in my mostly hardcover book collection -gasp? Make the jump to the bottom of the post for the answer to why I do this.)

Sure. Simple things work simply, right? But complicated things like collecting and sharing research? That’s not easy. So we can’t bother with making it easy -that’s dumbing things down? Hold on. Making users work to organize their research -bad, bad practice. I see so many brilliant students, professors and independent researchers struggle in organizing information. Why is it so hard to manage the information they find? What system of collecting research makes it easy? Sure, we’re taught to write papers, analyze results, and prepare presentations. Are we taught to manage the information we collect?

That’s not an important step? Why do we assume (or not because we haven’t really thought about it) our users can manage the information they find after they find it? Should they have too? Why don’t we teach this from within libraries? Are we? Are we really? We recognize information overload, information mismanagement, information asphyxiation. We recognize ourselves as experts in organizing information. We tame this stuff right? So where’s the piece where we teach our users how to do this? (I know some of you are doing this; feel free to chime in about how you teach your users’ some info-wranglin’ skills.)

What about you? Do you feel the “seams” when you’re participating in a project? How many times have you had to re-find an article, a document, a fact, an email, or a website? Was it ever frustrating to have to re-find something you knew you had? It’s not a really big secret that I like to share knowledge. In fact, I believe a fundamental definition for knowledge must include sharing. Without sharing, why pick-up anything along the way? We might as well not be picking anything up. This leads us to a new role. In this changing, helter-skelter techno-infused environment, will our users need help organizing their information? Yes. Helping our users share and organize research must become a prime role. I’d like to see one more emerging role. A professional who can organize knowledge for an organization and this same professional who can organize knowledge for an individual.

Here’s an example. I keep every citation and article I find. Every.single.one. I like porting my research with me. Why? Because when I talk to someone I can actually send them the article. Yup, I’m that dork. Also, because I’m in school. Collected research comes in handy time and again. You never know when you’re going to have to cite a fundamental paper in the field. Used to be you could only have one or the other: citations or articles handy. I used to carry 120 gig hard drive with me. Then I lost it. Not the hard drive but my mind -just joking- I lost a portion of my hard drive because it felt the need to take a vacation. Now, I want the citations handy. I want the articles handy. And I want protection from technology vacations. This means I need to distribute my collection. Here’s three on the cusp of letting you do just that. (This is just one example of thinking about how to help researchers: organize, protect, share and recollect information from their personal collections for knowledge-sharing.)

Citeulike allows you to upload research you find. Lacks integration into many subscriber databases. Not a bad thing. Just an observation.

And citeulike allows attachments too

Refworks allows you up to 200 mb of storage space. Yet, you’ve got to pay for it individually. And you only get 200 mb of space. There are researchers who would max this out just uploading one year’s worth of collected research articles.

whoa Refworks allows attachments now

Zotero may offer the most promise here. It’s not a feature that’s been rolled out yet. Look for it June 2008.

does zotero allow attachments and multiple locations

**this is the bottom of the post:

Once upon a time…Just before it closed one day, I went to a very special place with very special books. I stood -quietly but not too quietly. I said, “Library, I am conflicted. I feel my books are precious. Yet, I want to mark in them. I make notes too. Sometimes in the books; sometimes in notebooks. I don’t always feel the need -but for quite a few I do.” The Library nodded, in a slow Tai Chi like nod. The Library said, “Tell me more.” So I did. (I mean…it’s a freaking talking Library -what would you have done?)

I say, “I’ve mostly stopped marking up my books. Well, I feel guilty; I’ve bought them; I think of those books as precious friends. As the containers of awesome ideas I have to protect to make them last. Yet, I mark and scrawl and highlight and dog-ear. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I hold back. But, then I can’t find what I need because I didn’t highlight it or note it: I’m exasperated! What should I do?”

The Library sat quietly as they do; but had really furrowed its brow. I could hear movement in the stacks; the books slowly climbing into their spots, settling in for the night.

The Library said, “Lee, I remember when you first came to me for story time. I know you respect books. More important, I know you respect what books can do. I will say this: Every book to the reader. Books are a perfect piece of technology. No one thinks of them as such. Books form and function to transmit the information they contain. They are your books. You derive benefit by extracting knowledge from them. Your way is but one. Your method is your own. Do with your books as you wish. The only request I ask is that you not burn them -unless you have a really really really good reason. Disagreeing with them is not a good reason. Got it?” I did get it. Sometimes I buy two copies. One to mark in. And one to donate. Articles aren’t the only thing I share. I’d like that to be said at my eulogy:

He shared books.

TTW Contributor: Lee LeBlanc

One thought on “What features make it easier?”

  1. Nice post! Zotero is super super super cool! It doesn’t quite mesh with my natural workflow, but I still use it occasionally when I have too much stuff for my head to keep track of alone. As soon as it goes mobile, it will blow the rest out of the water. Thanks for comparing!

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