How I Work: Fall 2017 Update

How I Work

When I did this before, back in 2014, I wrote:

I mostly work experimentally. I change operating systems, app environments, and the media or modes I work in frequently. I work through exploring  new methods and being distracted by shiny new tools or workflows. While this suits my temperament, it also means I spend a lot of time learning and adopting new systems and a lot less time enjoying the efficiencies of one evolved and perfected routine.

Yeah. That still holds true. Since then, enough has changed that it’s worth revisiting the How I Work concept and updating it. I’m also hoping that as I reflect on the tools I’m using that I’ll make some additional changes as well.

Location: Portland, OR (ish) Live in Tualatin, OR work in Vancouver, WA

Current gig: Faculty with Creative Media and Digital Culture program, Archivist and co-director of ELA archive, Coordinator for Electronic Literature Organization
Systems and Instruction Librarian

Current mobile device:

Phone: iPhone 7 plus. This is my first iPhone and OH MY GOD DO I LOVE IT SO! I’ve used Android phones since the G1 came out, but I’ve never really owned a flagship phone. The big form factor iPhone is almost a laptop replacement and I can’t live without it

Tablet: iPad Air 2; now that I’m using the big iPhone, the iPad has been reduced to a media-viewing screen. This has changed my workflow significantly. I no long write student feedback w/ a stylus on the screen; I do my grading on the laptop now.

Current computer:

Work: Macbook Pro 15” from mid-2014. This is likely due for replacement soon, but I love it so much I may try to hang on to it for another year.

Home: My 2016 birthday gift from Natalie was a new gaming machine (Thanks, Natalie!). Before this I’d always built my own rigs and the one I’d been using had been in an incremental upgrade since 2004. The current unit has an Intel i5-6500 processor, NVIDIA GTX 1060 6gb video card and I do love it so. It’s a treat to be able to run new games at playable framerates and I promise I’ll never take it for granted again.

One word that best describes how you work: Experimental (This is still true. I’d also clarify that I work in fits and starts and that mode is increasingly difficult to maintain as years go by. I’m MUCH more dependant on schedules and calendars than I once was. I don’t know if this is due to reduced neuro-placticity in my aging brain or if I was just an unreformed man-child for an unconscionably long period of time.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

(These tools work on multiple operating systems and platforms, unless indicated.)

Airmail & Calendars 5: OH MY GODDESSES AND GODS I’m so happy that I can ditch the Outlook/Exchange environment. I currently use Airmail 3 as my mail app on iOS and OSX. I love it unreservedly. It works very smoothly with the inbox zero email method and has made me much more efficient. I also use Calenders 5 on iOS and the default calendar apps on iOS and Windows 10. I haven’t had a calendar app I love since Sunset was bought out by Microsoft.

Outlook/Exchange: Work requires me to use the Exchange environment for calendaring and mail. My calendar is the most important tool of my work environment, so despite personal preferences to the contrary I’ve built my workflow in Microsoft’s platforms. Sadly, this means moving from a linux environment back to Windows. Happily, Apple’s mail and calendar apps play nicely w/ Exchange servers so I’m not forced into a complete computing monoculture.

DropboxI’ve used every cloud storage solution out there and Dropbox is the one I’m willing to keep paying for. Box, OneDrive, and Google Drive all have selling points, but Dropbox just works. I’ll give the caveat that my most frequent collaborators work in Dropbox and if they chose Box or one of the others, I’d likely follow them for convenience’s sake. Still, I’m happy that I’m using the one that’s most convenient. (Dropbox would be perfect if it had a built-in embed code generator like OneDrive does.) I still use the Synology NAS for my backups, but I don’t rely on it to serve up cloud storage any more.

Synology Cloud Station: I work on a number of devices, so all of my files have to be accessible remotely. The most valuable tool I have for this is my home Synology NAS and their Cloudstation app. This allows me to access and edit all of my files from any machine, tablet, or phone, which enables me to work in many places. Thank you Synology!

LastPass: This is unchanged from before, what was written then is still true. Hands-down, my most frequently used and least-complained-about service. This allows me secure access to passwords, account information, notes, and bookmarks (using their XMarks product) on all my devices.

Acrobat Pro: It may be that the Apple Pencil is a killer peripheral for handwriting on tablets, but I’ve given up for the time being. Bluetooth styli were an order of magnitude better than capacative styli, but I’ve decided that annotating PDFs in Acrobat Pro using a keyboard is faster and easier than writing. (This opinion is subject to change with my access to new technology.)

Notability (iOS): Being able to hand-annotate articles, student essays, and meeting notes on a tablet is the KILLER APP for tablets in higher ed. So the Notability app is paired with a TruGlide fiber-tipped stylus, although I’m eager to try one of the active styli that will work with the new iPad.

Zotero: This is also unchanged from before. I still can’t imagine doing research without it.

Keynote: Keynote is best. Slides in the browser is cool and interesting, but keynote is faster, easier to edit, and much, much easier to use when collaborating. iCloud and Keynote live are worthwhile improvements in slide deck technology. I use the WordPress plugin Embed Any Document Plus to embed PDFs of my Keynote decks in my class site.

reveal.js: In class, I need visuals in the form of a slide deck. reveal.js allows me to do class lecture slides in a way that doesn’t piss me off like PPT does and is web accessible without a slideshare-like service acting as an intermediary. I don’t mind Keynote, but reveals.js is fun and more useful.           

What’s your workspace like?

This is largely unchanged. I share space with others now, so I’m more mindful of my mess and being a good partner in shared space. I find that I miss the white board. I also find that my documents are a bit messy again. I have stuff in Google Drive, two different instances of OneDrive, my Synology CloudDrive, and now Dropbox. I’m steadily migrating everything to Dropbox, so it is getting better. I was also able to move a decade of old files into zArchive folders (the z puts them at the bottom of alphabetized lists) and that is amazingly freeing.

I LOVE my standing desk. It makes a ton of difference in my physical comfort and health in the office. Besides that, I need a lot of desk space that I can clear off and use for projects. I also have a big dry-erase board for planning and process-mapping.

My space is messy and paper still gets stuck and collects in messy piles, but most of my workspace is digital now and thanks to Cloud Station, that is clean, orderly and accessible. The physical space, however, is crowded with accumulated cruft that semi-annually is either recycled or jammed into file cabinets.

What’s your best time-saving trick?

OneNote: almost everything I said about Evernote is true for OneNote. I grudgingly moved over at the request of MPOW, but what do you know, it works better. At some point I’m going to have to deal w/ using separate tools for notes and documents and address how there really isn’t a difference between notes and documents, but until them I’ll be using OneNote.

Evernote is about cataloging as much as it’s about note taking. I can throw lots of stuff into it, and as long as I tag it promiscuously, I can find it again later. You may notice that I work in a number of partially overlapping tools on a number of computers and devices. Evernote is a way for me to grab or create content where I am and know that I can find it when I need it, whenever and wherever that is. The tipping point for me was realizing that Evernote is a cataloging tool, not a note-taking tool.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?

Todoist works with my mail client (Airmail) and integrates well with IFTTT and  Google Calendar. This is a tool I’m happy to pay for, because it is what keeps me on track and helps me manage long-term projects. I know others have good relationships with different to-do list aps, but I dig Todoist.

I’ve worked with Remember the Milk for a long time. I appreciate how it is accessible from many platforms and it just seems to work with the way my brain organizes tasks and priorities. That said, I’m currently struggling with some productivity and workflow efficiency issues, so I’m going to follow the lead of a couple of sage colleagues and try HabitRPG for a while. I won’t be cancelling my premium subscription to RTM just yet, though.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?

I wear a Garmin VivoSmartHR fitness tracker and it has become a part of my life. The main appeal is the optical HR tracking. I struggle w/ AFIB (a heart-rate condition) and this watch can help me catch when my heart beat goes out of rhythm. Beyond that, it does just enough “smart” activities not to be distracting. Perhaps I’ll upgrade to a new VivoActive 3 soon or even an Apple Watch, but for now this keeps me happy.

My Motorola Motoactv watch. I’ve little interest in the current generation of Android Wear devices, but this first generation smart watch does exactly what I need it to. The MotoActv is a GPS tracker and heart rate monitor for exercising. It has just enough battery life to work as a step-counter (Fitbit) and as a good-old-fashioned wrist watch. It pairs with both ANT+ and BLE heart rate sensors and with bluetooth or wired headphones. I don’t need it to extend my phone, but it does what’s it’s designed to do better than any phone app or dedicated GPS watch I’ve tried.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?

My superpower is making useful thematic connections between seemingly unconnected things. I’m able to see how items are related and how systems work on similar principles more quickly than other around me.

What are you currently reading?

If I’m honest, I’m probably reading Reddit threads or Twitter right now. Otherwise I’m listening to and re-reading the Song of Ice and Fire novels. I have a ton of books on my to be read shelf, but I’m not reading them at the moment.

What do you listen to while you work?

(I’m leaving this bit intact. Recently I’ve been listening to Kesha’s Rainbow, which is a much better album than I expected,  Solange’s A Seat at the Table, and Jay-Z’s 4:44. I’m a little obsessed with those last two albums and Lemonade and the circumstances that brought them together.) I listen to audiobooks A LOT. They make up the bulk of my listening, usually three hours at day. However, when I’m working I need something without recognizable words so I like chillout electronica like Supreme Beings of Leisure, Thievery Corporation, and Air or also Icelandic music like Mum, Sigur Ros, or Jonsi. I recently switched to Spotify, so I’m also exploring as many new directions as I can find. Send me your suggestions! (Please and thank you.)

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?

(This hasn’t changed. Since I’ve moved out of the library I’ve realized that non-library circles are a LOT less introvert-friendly.) Almost all of the time, I’m an introvert. However, in certain classroom or conference settings I magically transform into someone who loves being the center of attention. At a party or a social event I’m a wallflower, but I’m happily gregarious when asked to moderate a panel or teach a class.

What’s your sleep routine like?

Sleep may be the one things I’m best at. I use a CPAP machine, but I’m asleep by 11 PM most nights and up before six AM most days. I generally get enough sleep, but I really wish I was able to sleep later on weekends and catch up.

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see ______ answer these same questions.

I’ve already inflicted my request on others, so I won’t turn this into a chain letter. Again. Becky Yoose and Bohyun Kim

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

(This remains unchanged. Thanks, Coach Jim.) When I was a college athlete, I was struggling with burnout. I had sacrificed a lot to my training and repeated injuries were making it hard to keep putting in the hours and the miles with very little to show for my work except another injury. Anyway, I was angry and rebellious. I started smoking cigarettes. My coach gave me a talking to that I’ve never forgotten. A rough paraphrase of that conversation:

“Of all the vices you can try: drugs, drinking, sex, or smoking; cigarettes have the biggest penalty for the smallest reward. I’m not saying you have to be a saint, but don’t be stupid about how you rebel.” {imagine a Mark Harmon style headslap here.}

I was a fairly straight-edged kid, but I took those words to heart. Even today I’m easily swayed by my passions and my emotions, but when I remember that advice I’m much more likely to make a considered choice instead of impulsively lashing out at the universe or myself.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

The process of articulating how I do my work is a useful tool for refining and evaluating how I do things. I recommend trying this yourself as an interesting and useful mindful-about-work-practices exercise.


Things are changing! For at least the next year and hopefully for the next five years I will be on assignment away from the library with the CMDC (Creative Media and Digital Culture) program at WSU Vancouver. This is a fabulous opportunity for me. I’m going to continue to spend 20% of my time teaching for CMDC, but now I’ll also be working with the Electronic Literature Organization (ELO) as the Organization’s coordinator. This involves some office work, but I have the chance to learn how to do the million little things that enable a scholarly society to function. In addition I’m working with Dr. Dene Grigar in her Electronic Literature Lab (ELL) and learning how to be an archivist. Please check out our latest project: a traversal of Sarah Smith’s King of Space.

All of these changes are tremendously exciting and energizing. I’m hoping to use some of this new energy to keep this space updated. Keep an eye on this space for updates on the following:

  • Projects in the ELL lab
  • Reflections on mid-career change
  • On being a librarian outside of the library
  • Social justice issues
  • The games that I’m still finding some time to play

Free Primary Sources:,, and the Magic of Metadata Harvesters

This post is a summary of a presentation given at the 2015 ILAGO Summit in Hood River, Oregon.

DP.LA and have become my go-to tools for primary source materials. Metadata harvesters (this is the fancy name for the kind of tool that and are) are amazingly useful, fun to explore, and rely on open content and sharing in a way that warms my cold librarian heart. I gave a presentation on these tools at the ILAGO (Information Literacy Group of Oregon) Summit and I wanted to share it with you all. Here is my slide deck, followed by a brief synopsis for my fellow preferrers of text.

I have three goals for this talk. First, I want all of you to be able to go back to your libraries and share how rich, deep, and amazing the content available through metadata harvesters is. That’s the key point: metadata harvesters are really freaking cool. Once we’ve established that, I want you all to be able to explain to your coworkers what underlying technologies and standards are behind the magic of metadata harvesters. Finally, I want to close on the question of how to integrate metadata harvesters into our existing suites of tools for discovery and reference.

Metadata harvesters are really freaking cool.

Showing off the and is easy. It’s pretty easy to manipulate the interfaces and both tools do an adequate job of helping novice searchers. Let’s use an example to see how searching metadata harvesters work. Here’s the scenario: a student comes to the library with an assignment to find primary source materials on a historical figure represented in current popular culture. This student is interested in the Cercei Lannister character on HBO’s Game of Thrones series, so we are looking for primary sources about her historical inspiration Margaret of Anjou. Searching for Margaret of Anjou, including alternate spellings, returns quite a few interesting primary and secondary sources in My favorite is a letter she wrote using veiled language to threaten people who were molesting tenants under her protection. The ease of finding materials really shows off the power and usefulness of metadata harversters like and

Standards and technologies behind the magic

Turning to the underlying technology & standards that enable metadata harvesters to work, we’ll see that Dublin Core, XML, and RDF are foundational technologies. Metadata harvesters like and rely on dublin core and rdf to build standards. The key concept is that the metadata harvesters publish a standard that digital archives can use. Digital archives that wish to share their metadata must publish their metadata using these standards. Then this metadata will harvested and become discoverable. It is important to note that the digital objects themselves are not harvested and remain on the hosting archives’ servers.

Integrating metadata harvesters into our discovery tools

How we can make the amazing sources and resources that are discoverable through metadata harvesters available to our library users? At WSU Vancouver, we make them available through a Libguide. Reflecting on this, I’m starting to be concerned how free sources are largely segregated (made available to students in a different place) from the sources we pay to get access to. Are there strategies we can use to close this gap? It may also be useful to discuss the similarities between library discovery layers and metadata harvesters. Both can make use of the same underlying technology, OAI-PMH, but in my limited experience, the tool built on open standards and sharing is much more successful at providing discovery than the proprietary solutions.

Reflections on the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Holiday

Recently I’ve been thinking about why I became a librarian. A generous reading of my motivations is that being a librarian allows my idealism to run free. I want to believe that in devoting my labors to the library I’m actively working to build a better world. A less generous reading of my motivations is that librarianing1)Dr. Chris Bourg is to be thanked / blamed for my use of librarian as a verb. is one of the few ways someone with an excellent education in the humanities but few practical skills can keep a roof over their head. Most of the time I assume librarianing is a good thing and most of the time I don’t feel the need to question this assumption. However, as I write this, it is the Doctor Martin Luther King Jr holiday. As the United States spends the day celebrating the life and work of Dr. King I’m questioning how well my avocation is serving the work of Dr. King. The standard narrative is that libraries provide the public with free access to information;  libraries are a necessary element of an open society. Openness and freedom are the natural enemies of bias and institutionalized privilege and thus libraries are creating a free and open future.

I like this narrative. It’s nice. It’s comfortable. It’s the kind of thing that can help one believe in one’s work when the tasks in front of us are tedious and unpleasant. It’s also the kind of narrative that enables me to remain blind to the contradiction in claiming love for humanity as a whole while loathing the particular examples of humanity that I interact with. It’s the kind of narrative that needs to taken out and examined on occasion. Today’s holiday is one such occasion.

Today I’m re-reading Dr. King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail. I’m asking myself if the comfort I take in the goodness of libraries is the comfort of the white moderate. Am I preferring a “negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice?” To help me answer these questions, I’m considering the story of Paul Coates, founder of Black Classics press. Paul’s story both make me wonder why I am comfortable in my nice library profession and he was not.

In Ta-Nehisi Coates’ autobiography The Beautiful Struggle he tells the stories of a son and his father. The father, W. Paul Coates, is a veteran and a Black Panther. Paul earned a BA and then a Master’s degree in library science.  He found work at the Howard University library, but did not remain a librarian for long. As his son tells the story, Paul became fascinated by hidden or lost classics of black America, classics that were frequently not found in library collections. These books contained narratives that counter or even contradict the stories Americans tell ourselves about racial reconciliation and healing. Libraries, even the library at Howard University, have a bias towards the published record. Unpublished knowledge or out of print works aren’t always protected by libraries and archives. Coates and de jesus both remind us that the structural bias against this kind of knowledge is neither accidental nor unforseen.

See, brother, those books are out of print. You know what that means? The white man ain’t gonna let you see those. He don’t want those books in print. (Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Beautiful Struggle, 90)

Paul Coates left librarianship to become a publisher. He founded and ran Black Classics Press and returned some of “those books” to print and provided an publication venue to a perspective that too frequently been excluded from the American record. I think he’s done more good as a publisher than he would have as a librarian. He has certainly done more good as a publisher than I have done as a librarian. He’s also not the only example of a trained librarian realizing that our profession can hinder justice as well as enable it. nina de jesus has also written persuasively on the complicities of libraries in institutional oppression.

So today, as our nation reflects on the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, I’m thinking about how my work intersects with The Good Work of Dr. King. Am I librarianing for social justice or am I living comfortably in denial of tension and injustice? I think (hope) that the answer is mostly the former. I’m satisfied with my values and with my goals. I’m satisfied with the course I’ve set to reach them. I am not satisfied with the position I’m currently occupying. There is work yet to be done. To look into this more fully, I’m writing a series of three further reflections. The first tells the story of the values and ideology that led to me choosing librarianship as a profession. The second tells the story of the ugly realities and compromises that clash with those values and ideologies. The third reflections wraps things up by explaining how I can be committed to working for these values through a system even when I recognize that this system is often flawed and complicit in the injustice I’m trying to undo.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Dr. Chris Bourg is to be thanked / blamed for my use of librarian as a verb.