Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers: Session 6 - Calendars


Session 6 of the Year of Productivity programme looks at calendars. Personally, I love calendars. I use my Google calendar religiously, usually for personal appointments and plans – I go to the theatre a lot and I’d probably end up double-booking myself if I didn’t write down every booking I make. I have an Android phone so I can access my calendar anywhere. I mark off my annual leave on my calendar, as well as anything unusual – such as if I am going to be out of the office – but I tend to use my Groupwise work calendar for work-related stuff, only adding personal appointments to this if they impact on work time – such as a doctor’s appointment that infringes on work hours. I find my work calendar very useful: my manager uses it to schedule team meetings and one-to-ones, and if I need to get hold of someone in a different department or Centre I can check their calendar to see where they are and when they are free. I think Doodle is brilliant too – it is currently being used to plan one of my best friends’ hen dos and although it’s still a nightmare trying to get everyone together, I suspect it would be even more of a nightmare if Doodle didn’t exist.

I tried the ‘Don’t Break the Chain’ technique, printing out a booklet of calendars from the handy paper resources section on the blog a couple of weeks ago. I used it to assist my language learning, as I think the ‘little and often’ approach is particularly well-suited to this kind of task. I find marking off the days as I go very satisfying, and it gives me a sense of achievement to see the chain grow longer and longer, so I think I will carry on with this.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

CILIP in London Meeting: Swimming in Data: Records Research in the Digital Age

On Tuesday I attended another CILIP in London meeting at The Square Wine Bar, Tolmers Square, near Euston. Called Swimming in Data: Records Research in the Digital AgeCaroline Kimbell, Head of Licensing at The National Archives in Kew, gave a talk on how the digitisation of Kew's archives is changing the ways in which history is studied.

Caroline explained that there are around 180km of archives at Kew, most of which are handwritten. Only around 7% of these records have been digitised so far, and while some of this has been pushed forward in line with Government policy, much of it is commercially driven.

Caroline explained some of the ways in which digitisation has assisted with research in new and unexpected ways. Digital records enable teams to work more collaboratively in the search for information, and means that collections which previously lay dormant have been 'woken up'. For instance, medical historians can use records kept by ships' surgeons to find out more about disease, while historians and scientists can use logs from whaling ships to map the extent of the Arctic ice shelf at various points in the past. Royal Navy log books from the 1690s onwards are assisting climatologists, allowing them to study the recorded weather readings and map them on a scale impossible before digitisation.

Digitisation can help make documents accessible again. Damaged census returns from Manchester, which had become unreadable owing to exposure to damp, have been made visible thanks to UV and infrared light techniques.

In literature, digitisation means that writing can be studied in different and more scientific ways. For instance, it has become possible to search text for particular words and phrases to get a more general idea about writing in the past. Tags and keywords can be added to digital documents to assist future researchers.

This system is not, however, without its flaws. The tags and keywords added now reflect our own cultural priorities and may not be what future generations need or want to study. Caroline mentioned the example of law archives: records of past cases survive because those in power at the time felt that they were important.

I really enjoyed Caroline's talk, and am particularly glad that she mentioned the Old Weather project - this allows the public to help transcribe the weather reports mentioned earlier, and looks like a great deal of fun too.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers: Session 5 - Paper Productivity Tools and the Pomodoro Technique


Session 5 of the Year of Productivity, and I think I need to work on my productivity, as I’ve come to it pretty late! Anyway, I was definitely impressed with the different paper productivity tools available. I love my electronic tools like Google Calendar and Evernote but I still have a soft spot for paper – after all, the battery doesn’t run out and it doesn’t crash. I am definitely going to check out the printable paper productivity tools in the LifeHacker post.

  1. Chapter 4 of The Sketchnote Handbook is available for preview. Go to the author’s blog to download the sample chapter. You can also view three short podcasts by the author at his site.
Not being a lover of podcasts, I gave those a miss but I read through the chapter. I can see why Sketchnote appeals to people but I don’t know if it’s for me – I don’t really like expressing ideas in this way, I’d rather just write them down. However, there were some good tips in the chapter such as preparing a title page for your notes, scanning them once they are completed and correcting any errors afterwards – however I find it hard enough to write legibly when note-taking, let alone draw legibly.

  1. Having read Chapter 4 in Exercise #1, try practicing the method while listening to a pre-recorded webinar.  If you don’t have one already waiting in your to-do queue that you need to view, you could watch the video of David Allen presenting his Getting Things Done method that Mary introduced in Session 4.
I gave this a go but ended up writing notes in the usual way! I do use bullet points and abbreviations in my notes anyway, but I don’t know if even more complicated note taking the way to go for me.

  1. The Moleskine company has collaborated with the Evernote folks and created a special Evernote Smart Notebook.  Take a few minutes now and check it out here at the Getting Started Guide.  How might this tool help your workflow and productivity?  Could you combine it with the Sketchnote method?
I use Evernote a lot so this could work really well. I prefer to use a combination of paper and electronic methods to create notes so this is definitely something I’d like to look into. It could definitely work with the Sketchnote method, for instance if you’re in a meeting and want to make notes by hand then add them to Evernote later.

  1. Review the Pomodoro Technique.  Try to apply the method on a project you need to start today.  How often did you have to keep yourself from straying from the task?  How much did you accomplish during the session?
I tried this, but I found that as soon as I wasn’t allowed to check my emails or distract myself in any other way, I immediately wanted to even more. Also, I found myself spending twice as long mentally ‘preparing’ myself for the 25-minute stretch of work knowing that in theory, at least, I wouldn’t be able to stop. I think I’m going to need more practice…