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My PKM Tech Stack

With the caveat that pen and paper is a technology that I *occasionally* use, but not enough to make it into this article, I present the tools and techniques I use to manage my personal knowledge environment.

The tech stack that I use, broken down into KM verbs

In the image above is a visual representation of the technology I use to manage knowledge for myself. I do a fair bit of cobbling things together and managing a number of “nodes” in this stack – perhaps more than many of you would prefer to deal with – but this is what I do and how I do it.


The capture part of my KM (Knowledge Management) process is my note-taking environment. I have a few there, but I will admit to using one more than the others these days. I began as a heavy Evernote user – I have a TON of knowledge secreted away in my Evernote stacks and notebooks, but that was the problem. Getting that information out to make use of it required that I remembered it was there, which is not a great use of the human brain… My current go-to note-taking app is RoamResearch and it’s pricier than Evernote, but it surfaces information that might be older, but relevant to my current note, in an incredibly useful way. I use this tool for interstitial journaling as well as for collecting a ton of information from the information sources I read, listen to and otherwise consume. I include Obsidian in there because I use it for some note-taking tasks, though as I get more comfortable with Roam, that’s trailing off. The benefits of Roam and Obsidian to Evernote include the use of linked data techniques to surface information easily. If I create a note and add a link to another page for information about that note, the software adds backlinks for me that link from the page I just linked to back to the original note page.

This kind of connection – the ability to backlink from one page to another in order to see connections explicitly – is a huge benefit for me as I record notes and information from what I consume. The fact that both applications also produce graphs (webs) of knowledge in which you can navigate through your notes in a graphical and connected way is another huge benefit for these tools. Other tools, such as Notion, have the ability to use backlinks and linked data technologies to make your notes more discoverable, but even I have my limits as to how many apps I’m willing to be using at once.

My RoamResearch information graph, as of 12/2/2022
My much smaller Obsidian graph, as of 12/2/2022

The final element of my capturing process is the use of Instapaper (Pocket or any number of other read-it-later services would work here, too, likely, though Instapaper has some automatic connections that are useful for me). What happens is that I find sources to consume on the Internet – articles or blog posts or other pages that have info I want to review – and I’ll save them to Instapaper. When I get a few moments during my day, I can read through those sources, highlighting what I want to keep and ditching the rest (though of course, each highlight is linked back to the original source if I ever need to return to the source for context or confirmation of facts). This capturing of information is then Managed and assisted by the tools in the Manage branch of my KM verb tree up at the top of this post.

Because this is starting to get really long, and I’ve only covered one of the 5 KM verbs, I’m going to end up making this into a series. Stay tuned for the next installment where I’ll talk about how I Manage my knowledge environment!

Part 1 – Capture | Part 2 – Manage | Part 3 – Connect | Part 4 – Enhance | Part 5 – Find | Part 6 – Create

Knowledge Graphs thinking

Knowledge Graphs

Hmmm – I’ve been working with Knowledge Graphs after writing an article for Computers In Libraries on Personal Knowledge Management with Linked Data and now I’m taking notes and making connections between thoughts and producing my own thoughts. Where to put those thoughts, though? I suppose, since I’m paying the big bucks ($3 a month) to host this site still, I should probably make use of it as a repository for my thinking.

I’m in the RBC8 Book Club right now, a club that uses RoamResearch to collectively read and discuss books or, in our case, scientific articles using a shared database (graph) of notes and prompts and zoom meetings. So far, it’s pretty cool and I’m getting to the point where I’m putting a LOT of content into Roam (and paying $15 a month to be able to do that – Obsidian is free, but I haven’t gotten as “into” it as I have Roam, mostly because of the book club, I’m sure).

Anyway, the scientific journal issue we are reading is covering the topics of collective knowledge and cumulative culture and how animals (human and non-human) as well as swarm robots use collective knowledge to create that culture through social learning, generally. It’s a fascinating topic and one I’ll likely be thinking about, and posting on, in the future.

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You may notice that the blog post below this one, the most recent one chronologically, was posted in 2013, a good 9 years ago. That makes this blog an archive and repository, rather than an actual living web page. I’ll endeavor to keep up with the presentation and writing links, but I won’t be regularly posting here or giving it too much updating love between writing and speaking gigs. That being said, welcome and feel free to look around and see what library technology was like a decade or so ago… (insert CC licensed image of old man telling kids to get off his lawn that I couldn’t find in a quick image search).

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More about learning and libraries

Yesterday, I posted about the libraries role in regards to giving people space, equipment and motivation in order to get the most out of MOOCs. Today I’m going to talk about why that is so very important.

In yesterday’s ReadWrite article on “10 Technology Skills That Will No Longer Help You Get A Job“, Brian Hall lists 10 dying technologies that are perhaps not what young folks want to study these days. At the end of the article, however, he mentions that one skill that is always necessary is the ability to learn. My coworker, Heather Braum, has on her email signature line the quote:

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those cannot read and
write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” ~Alvin Toffler, *Rethinking
the Future*

The point being that no matter what we learn today, the chances are that in this fast paced technological era in which we live, tomorrow we will likely have to learn another skillset in order to be able to feed ourselves. Nobody can afford to go to college that often, quite frankly, so I’m going to suggest that the idea I posed yesterday – about libraries supporting local MOOC groups – may be more important than ever in the future. Sure – there are commercial training outfits, but they can be very, very pricey (though not as pricey as college, says the woman whose child is about to graduate from high school in a couple of weeks) and will cut out the very people libraries are there for – the folks who can’t afford high training class fees.

So, the role of libraries as educators (most especially as free educators) in society is vitally important today, but will become even more important tomorrow and beyond. What are you doing in your library to encourage life-long and self-motivated learners? What are you doing to encourage those who might not be quite as motivated?

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Libraries and Education (yes, I’m going to use the word MOOC – a lot)

Sorry for those folks who feel they’ve heard *way* too much about MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) lately… While reading “Why online education is mostly a fantasy” at Pandodaily today, I was struck by his comparison of libraries to MOOCs. Libraries have offered free education and learning to anybody who asks for years and, as the author of the piece points out, there are few self-made entrepreneurs who learned everything they needed to know to start their business in the library. For the same reasons (mainly motivation), the author believes that MOOCs will be similarly unsuccessful in providing free education to the masses.

What if, however, libraries used the advantage of local spaces and face-to-face meeting possibilities along with the advantages of MOOCs to create study groups. Anyone with an interest in a particular class can sign up and the local students could use a library meeting room, library computers and each other. With equipment, space and motivation to continue provided by fellow students, combining MOOCs with Libraries seems to me to be a pretty sweet combination. Librarians can get people in the doors by offering space and, maybe, refreshments (though not near the computers, maybe?) and patrons can sign up to take classes and form study groups while educating themselves – something libraries should always be prepared to support!

Is this already being done? I think the possibilities are endless – especially for a library that knows its patrons and can connect circ stats to what patrons might be willing to learn about.  The author of the article ends with:

most people [will] continue to require structure and a supportive learning environment in the modern age of online education

Why can’t libraries be the institutions that step up and make that supportive learning environment happen?

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Digital Literacy – What Responsibility Do Libraries Have?

Over at the GovLoop site today, there is a post from Dave Briggs on the need for digital literacy in the general population today. He mentions that Howard Rheingold in his book Net Smart outlines five key skills needed for digital success:

  • Attention
  • Crap detection
  • Participation
  • Collaboration
  • Network smarts

I can see libraries at the forefront of teaching/assisting with at least 3 of these and a case could be made for library involvement with all 5. The three that I see as fundamental to library involvement at the middle ones – Crap Detection, Participation and Collaboration.

Crap Detection is just the ability to evaluate information – libraries and librarians have been teaching that for years, long before the Internet came along. We can (and most have) easily update our information literacy and evaluation lessons for academic librarians and the way we help patrons with understanding what information is valuable in public libraries.

Participation is alive and well in libraries today – the rising numbers of Maker Spaces like Johnson County’s Maker Space in Overland Park, Kansas and YouMedia in Chicago, IL. Providing our patrons with the tools needed to participate in the increasingly digital culture by making green screens, recording equipment, printing hardware and more available to patrons who want to create content and participate in the conversations happening online is something we should all be doing – in whatever form our community needs. Not every community needs a full recording studio – but offering something that patrons can use to communicate and participate in the digital culture is becoming increasingly important.

Collaboration is another skill that libraries have always pushed but one that is even more important these days. From collaborating on school projects to creating a community-written novel (see Topeka’s very cool Community Novel project), libraries can be the hub for collaborative projects large and small. Using the same technology provided for participating in the digital conversation, libraries can let folks connect over great distances via Skype or Google Hangout video conferences and give them the hardware and – most importantly – the bandwidth needed to make regular connections to far-flung collaborators.

While Network Smarts can be taught through computer classes and reference interviews throughout the library and helping folks focus their attention on what is important can be considered another library-taught skill, the three skills in the middle were tailor-made for library instruction and assistance!

Cloud Computing

Google Keep?

I’m a fan of Evernote, have been for a very long time. I’ve gotten into the habit of checking Evernote whenever someone asks me a question – chances are the answer is in there in notes I’ve taken, IFTTT recipes I’ve created to dump random info into Evernote or in something I’ve clipped from a web page. Now, Google has come out with Keep, which seems to be aimed squarely at Evernote. I’m torn. On the one hand, I have 3 “links” on my desktop to my Google Drive, Dropbox and SkyDrive folders – all of which hold various parts of my document-centric life. I don’t need that kind of fragmentation in my note-centric life, too. On the other hand, I really like Google’s services and tend to use them pretty heavily. Adding Keep to the mix may make life easier. It may also make life a bit more precarious, though, too – see the recent loss of Google Reader.

Maybe the answer is to use them all and figure out a method (work notes go here, personal notes go there or notes for training go here, notes for tech work go there, etc.) and be willing to move notes around as services come (and go). Maybe the answer is to take a page from my new System Administrator, Ryan Sipes, and use something that I can control like OwnCloud (what we are using at NEKLS these days to serve as our new File Server interface).

Whatever I decide, it’s a pretty good problem to have, really. Having too much choice is better than not enough!!


Cory Doctorow Came To Lawrence

Before the talkTonight, I went to the campus of KU and saw the one and only Cory Doctorow speak. This is the first time I’ve actually attended a speaking engagement of his, despite the fact that we both were at the Texas Library Association meeting a few years ago. I was busy with my speaking engagement, though, kicking off the inaugural hands-on computer lab sessions for TxLA that year and didn’t make it to his session(s) at all. This made me excessively glad to be able to go see him tonight!

He spoke on the issues of general purpose computers (PCs) and the fact that some – if not many – are now shipping as broken devices, already infected with the spyware and root kits necessary to make them less than fully functional computers (think anything that you can “jailbreak” or any console gaming device or any “internet appliance” that is locked down in any way). He talked about how DRM and other software locking schemes have weakened our ability to use computers and made them *less* secure. He gave a really, really excellent description of the SOPA law that nearly passed a couple of years ago – stating that the law itself would have worked. We know that because it does work – in Iran as well as China.

He spoke eloquently about the need to know what is going on in our computers and the need to be able to stop programs that work against our best interests. He talked about the fact that if the hearing aid – a general purpose computer stuck in a tiny device that will be implanted within his body – that he will undoubtedly need as he grows older isn’t open and accessible, anybody could do anything; keep him from hearing anything; make him hear things that aren’t there and more. Having open access to our computing platforms is the only sure way to knowing what is on our computers – something that will become ever more important as we have tiny computers implanted in us and as we get into large computers (airplanes, self-driving cars, etc) that ferry us around at great speeds.

Book Signing!

He made an impassioned plea to use the Ubuntu Linux Operating System – he pointed out that it is (finally) both beautiful and easy to use and is fully and completely open. He advocated Android phone OS’s and just generally being aware of what we are using in our computing lives. He also talked about how mean nerds are to their grandparents – grandmothers in particular, I think, and told the story of his grandmother who had no interest in computers, until Cory’s child was born (in England) and his grandmother (in Canada) decided she wanted to see her more often than once a year, so she got on Skype. It wasn’t that she couldn’t before – she just had no real reason to do so. The same can be said for the use of Linux-based operating systems – we can all use them and use them fairly easily; we just need a reason to do so.

Cory’s talk tonight gave many excellent reasons to do so! I’m very glad I went – it was a great reminder that we are at the beginning of the battle for control over our computers and that we need to work on making sure we retain control (see Lawrence Lessig’s RootStrikers – instead of dealing with copyright laws, Lawrence decided to strike at the root of the legal problem – the fact that corporations pay for so many election campaigns and laws are written to benefit those corps so that they will continue to contribute to re-election campaigns, ad nauseum. Fix election contribution issues, fix the root of the issue).




Libraries and Open Source

Photo Credit: Kuzeytac (will be back soon) via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Kuzeytac (will be back soon) via Compfight cc

In an article about how the use of Inkscape can possibly reduce the number of incarcerated people by Phil Shapiro, there is the following paragraph:

There are many excellent free software programs for audio and musical creativity. You see, to reach a more inclusive society, we need to be using and teaching a lot more free software programs. These programs can spur a culture of creativity, design, and invention that can bring about an economic rebound. You know that $17 trillion debt we’re facing? Greater creativity—widespread creativity and invention—is our best hope of reducing that debt.

He talks about how the use of the free and Open Source product Inkscape in classes can help give people who can’t afford the latest and greatest graphics software a way to create and produce that is not text based. Many people have much to contribute, but they aren’t wired to do well in a heavily text-based system. Allowing some students the freedom to create a story or essay in images (using Open Source products that they can then use on their own for no cost at home or at their local public library) would be one way to help students succeed in school. Success in school tends to depress the amount of illegal activities one does, so the basic premise is that using Open Source graphics software like Inkscape to allow students who are not textual learners to learn along with those who are more comfortable writing long essays.

All that being said, this is an excellent argument for libraries to put Open Source software – not just Inkscape, but GIMP and Open Office and any others that patrons might need to learn to use in order to make use of a hand-me-down computer that has nothing going for it but the ability to run light-weight programs like the ones listed above. If we are going to take on, as part of our mission, the teaching of technology, we need to do it in a way that is as accessible to those without resources to get the latest and greatest as it is for those who have those resources.

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Libraries as Entreprenurial Spaces

Libraries meanwhile may be associated today with an outmoded product in paper books. But they also happen to have just about everything a 21st century innovator could need: Internet access, work space, reference materials, professional guidance.”

via The Atlantic Cities

Co-working spaces, mentioned at the beginning of the paragraph I quoted above, are places for freelance or telecommuting workers to gather and make use of shared Internet access, printers and printing supplies and other people upon which they can bounce their ideas, just like in a regular office. Libraries have all those things – plus direct access to both print and online resources (databases, etc.) and people who are professionally trained to find things for other people. For those who are just starting out and don’t have the resources for high-speed Internet or even a printer, using the library as an office could be enough to push them into profitability (and if they are profitable, they pay taxes, which go back to the library and allow someone else to use those resources until they become profitable, ad infinitum). Of course, libraries have to balance the needs of small businesses and just-starting-out entrepreneurs with the general public and their needs and come up with limits to their levels of service. Will circ staff become secretaries for the up-and-coming entrepreneurs using the space? Will the reference staff limit the amount of time they can spend on business research? What kinds of office supplies will libraries stock and how much will they charge? Will there be limits for the amount of time a particular person can spend at the library, working? If content creation station(s) are put into place at your library, will you have to police their use so that a couple of individuals don’t monopolize them? Will you enter into a partnership with a commercial printer or printers or will you be in competition with them?

Considering all the angles can be difficult, but being open to the possibilities of welcoming struggling start-ups and brand new entrepreneurs into your library so that they can build a business can be a great service you can provide to your community. It can open up possibilities for community partnerships (how much would the Chamber be willing to provide to help businesses via your library?) and can help funnel money into local print shops, supply shops and other local businesses – all of which pay the taxes that support your library. Finally, how will this “service” be marketed? Will you need to compete with established co-working spaces? Can you support a rush of individuals using your library as a workplace? If you build it, will they come?