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Doctor Who, Delicious, and the Commonplace Book

Once again, all my worlds colliding in interesting ways this week.  For starters, I got Mark watching Doctor Who — he’s working his way through Season 4 with Doctor David Tennant on Netflix Streaming, and whenever the red envelopes show up, we slowly work our way through Season 5 with Doctor Matt Smith.

What the heck could this possibly have to do with Delicious.com and Commonplace Books, you ask?  Excellent question. Here goes…

In the Season 5 episode “The Time of Angels” River Song reappears with her intriguing blue TARDIS book, which basically serves as her commonplace book of all things Doctor-related.  But I didn’t think of it as her commonplace book till I saw some tweets coming out of THATcamp about digitizing them, plus Amanda Watson’s Ngram comparing commonplace books to scrapbooks. On top of all this, I’m reading Steven Johnson’s new book Where Good Ideas Come From (*highly* recommended) and I just came to the part in chapter 3 where he talks about the magic of commonplace books, particularly in regards to Darwin, who wrote copious notes and re-read them later to compare with other notes.

So with my brain churning around questions about commonplace books, a seemingly unrelated event happens — rumors spin out of control about my beloved bookmarking site Delicious.com riding off into the dot.com horizon, and suddenly I (and thousands of other people) start really thinking about where to keep our treasure troves of both useful and forgotten links (I’m toying with both Diigo and Pinboard, for what it’s worth…).

But then tonight I came back to Steven Johnson, where I’m still in the middle of musings about commonplace books – especially John Locke’s system of indexing his books and the Enlightenment habit of treating text as a wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey, here-and-there kind of thing.  And I realized that these commonplace books proved invaluable to their writer-owners because they held everything … reading notes, letter drafts, observations, recipes … sound familiar?  How many times have you tried to devise a Thing To Hold All Thoughts for yourself?  Be it a filing system, a gadget, a piece of software, or a website — many of us are constantly waging this battle to reinvent the commonplace book in a digital age.

I realized that I don’t need a Delicious replacement.  I need a whole bloody completely different way of doing things.  What can serve as my commonplace book?  My home laptop…? My Evernote account …?  Do I go back to paper journals…?  Right now I have ideas and snippets and quotes scattered across all of these places, which means I have a hard time finding that one recipe I’m thinking of or that one short story I have another idea for. So the good news for me is – Delicious and Yahoo aren’t the problems at all. The bad news is – I need to think about a much bigger picture and do my future self a favor by making up my mind and condensing my workflows.

Speaking of the future … a bit ironic that River Song is still using good old paper as her commonplace book centuries from now, isn’t it? *

 

*Yes, I know it’s fiction, silly.  But I also know the writers can dream up things like sonic screwdrivers and time-eating stone angels, yet they still trust memories to paper.  I find that very, very interesting.

 

It’s that frantic time of year between Black Friday and Christmas morning, when the overwhelming question coming out of our media boxes seems to be “What are you going to buy?” with the very clear assumption that you must buy SOMEthing.

I have a long-standing love/hate relationship with Christmas.  I prefer to celebrate the Winter Solstice instead and I wish I could ignore the whole gift-obsessed culture of the holiday season all together.  At the same time, I end up getting a new holiday CD every year, I love it when people wear Christmas hats to work, and I think decorating for the season is way super fun.

Over the past few years I’ve been struggling to come up with my own holiday customs and rituals.  This is the first year Mark and I will spend the holidays together as a married couple and now I feel the setting of traditions to be even more important.

Recently I met someone who gave me a wonderful idea.  A retired schoolteacher is meeting with Mark once a week for a writing group.  She’s an incredible, sharp-as-a-tack woman.  The writing she brings each week is short stories — often true stories from her own experiences.  Some of these she hopes to develop into a children’s book, others are simply stories to pass down to her grown kids and their kids.

Think about that.  Stories to pass down.  Real life, this-happened-to-me stories.  Do you know how your parents met?  Do you know how your mom/dad broke a leg at 10 years old?  Do you remember when you first learned the truth about Santa?

We lose so many stories, and yet there is such a wealth of incredible, personal stories out there in our families, among our own friends. How awesome would it be if we exchanged short stories this year in lieu of store-bought gifts?  I would be THRILLED if someone gave me a story.  It’s a beautifully satisfying gift on all kinds of levels — the obsessive collector, the curious busy body, the affectionate relative, or the estranged long-distance friend.

In a way, that’s what people were doing with the old custom of holiday family newsletters.  A friend of mine used to write us all a poem at the end of each year that summed up her adventures for the past 12 months … and it usually rhymed!  I’ve already asked my parents to just give me a story – any story – for Christmas this year.

Sure, writing a story is harder than just picking up something at a store … or is it?  I don’t know about you, but I would much prefer to sit at home, looking out the window, composing a little memory on my computer than go outside in the cold, drive through slushy crazy traffic to a crowded store or mall, and figure out which knick-knack will not be completely useless to the gift recipient.

My only regret is that I didn’t start asking for stories sooner.

It’s my last term in library school.  It will be a term full of job hunting, packing, pre-moving, farewell-ing stress.  With that in mind, I’m conflicted about which classes to take in my last semester.  I will only take 2 in order to spare myself any sort of pre-graduation melt down.  But …

But …

But … which two classes?  This is where your outsider / experienced / ironic perspective comes in handy.


Class:  Understanding Multimedia Information: Concepts and Practices
Description:

Designed for those with an interest exploiting multimedia information in web and electronic publishing projects, students will be introduced to the theory behind, and the tools associated with, a wide variety of audio (e.g., MP3, WAV, WM9, RealAudio), graphic (JPEG, GIF, PNG, etc.), music (MIDI, GUIDO, etc.) and text information formats (e.g., PS, PDF, etc.). After completing this course students should be empowered to make intelligent choices in selecting appropriate multimedia formats to match particular design requirements. A mix of lectures, demos and hands-on work. Students should have access to a personal computer upon which they can experiment on their own with downloaded multimedia software tools. Students must be competent in basic computing including the installation and configuration of software packages. Must understand basic HTML and simple web site construction tools (e.g., FTP, text editing, etc.).

Pros:
It’s on-campus!  (as opposed to online classes, which drive me nuts.)
It will give lots of hands-on experience with cool stuff.
It’s visual.  I definitely think visually, that’s something I’ve learned in grad school.
Seems like it would be pretty good for any future job.

Cons:
It’s on-campus.  If I get a great job that starts before May, and I need to move early … what do I do?
I’m a little worried about downloading lots of programs to my computer.  My sole computer.  My must-last-for-a-couple-more-years-at-least computer.


Class: Administration & Management of Libraries & Information Centers
Description:

Designed to explore the principles that govern how organizations and institutions work, this course provides a foundation for and introduction to the theories, practices and procedures involved in the management and administration of libraries and information centers.

Pros:
It’s online, so I could move before the end of the semester if need be.
Administration is a necessary evil in libraries, apparently, so I suppose it would be good to know about it.
Other students have told me there is a grant-writing exercise involved, and that would be really, REALLY good to know, me thinks.

Cons:
It’s online.  Someone shoot me.
The very terms “administration” and “management” make me twitch.


Class:  Document Processing
Description:

An introduction to XML-based document processing technologies and standards appropriate to electronic publishing. Leveraging descriptive encoding in standard formats (XML, SGML, HTML), industry-standard styling and transformation technologies (XSLT, CSS) can be deployed within layered systems to create and maintain formatted publications on and off the web (in HTML, PDF and print). Course participants will build such a system on an open-source platform. Issues to be covered include processing architectures (batch, server-and client-side processing); “vertical” publishing formats such as Docbook, DITA, NLM/NCBI, TEI; validation and quality-assurance methods and technologies; ancillary production pipelines (SVG graphics, RSS/Atom feeds, “galley proof” versions); document metadata and aggregation; and the role of proprietary publishing applications.

Pros:
It’s online, so I could move before the end of the semester if need be.
Lot’s of techie acronyms, which come in handy for impressing people.
I’m even interested in these acronyms!  I took a weekend TEI workshop and loved it, so many of these things sound really interesting and useful.

Cons:
It’s online. Someone shoot me.
I know myself well enough to know that I bore easily with techie acronyms. Especially if I’m just doing the same thing with them over and over again.  But if the activities in the class are varied and challenging, I’ll have a better chance of staying engaged.  But I won’t know till I’m in the class, of course.
I want to work with training people more than training programs, so is a class like this really up my alley?


Class: Library Buildings
Description:

Studies the library’s physical plant in the light of changing concepts and patterns of library service; analyzes present-day library buildings (both new and remodeled) and their comparison with each other as well as with buildings of the past; examines the interrelationship of staff, collections, users, and physical plant; discussion supplemented by visits to new libraries and conference with their staffs. A two-day field trip is required.

Pros:
It’s on-campus!
I’ve been interested in this class since my first semester but never fit it in.  I could feasibly fit in next semester.
Architecture! It doesn’t get much more visual than that.  I love, love, love the nuances of buildings.

Cons:
It’s on-campus.  If I get a great job that starts before May, and I need to move early … what do I do?
Will I really have a need for this kind of information?  I’m going into special libraries, not public or academic.  Is that short-sighted of me?

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