July 7, 2010

Why I Have a "ReadThis" Tag in Gmail

Okay, I admit, my Gmail tag count (see Stats in the sidebar) is getting a little out of control, but I still feel I am able to find almost any email of which I have a vague recollection (and some that have already flitted away into non-memory). And having a "ReadThis" tag may seem just as silly as my "Today" and "Resources" tags if I told you that any email still in my inbox is considered an action item, and that my entire job is managing resources. Nevertheless, I have a system. Just as cataloging an item is both more than and less than reading that item (depending on how you look at it) dealing with an email may require different levels of "reading."

When I train people on Gmail and tags, I try to avoid the term "metadata," although that's exactly how I use these tools. (My terms are just sometimes a little folksier than others'.) I emphasize that the system has to make sense to the user, and your tags should be something you will remember. That is a retrieval-biased explanation, but the truth is that I manage so much email on any given day that I need to use my tags to organize my work tasks as well. (I once kept a count and found about 60 active Gmail conversations on an average workday, with an average of four messages per conversation.) I use the "ReadThis" tag to group things that require a different attention span than other tasks. Which brings me to the latest update from the Carr Barn.....

I have been struggling with some of the ideas put forth in Nicholas Carr's work, specifically his article in the June issue of Wired in which he argues that The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains. I disagree with the assertion that quick thought is shallow thought; indeed, we librarians need to do a lot of quick, deep thinking to do our jobs. However, I find myself thinking a lot about one of the experiments Carr cites in which participants' reading comprehension suffered when certain terms in a passage were hyperlinked. (Tracking down this citation--given Carr's scant details--has been one of my best library moments, so please click through.) I encounter a lot of material at work that requires deeper concentration and attention, and often a reread or two, not to mention a pen in hand. I tend to print this type of content and, if I am so inclined, I read it in the guest chair that looks out into my office hallway rather than at my desk, both so that I am not distracted by my computer and phone, and so that people see me reading.

I often lament the fact that I do not work in a public library or other setting where I would regularly encounter and promote ALA's Celebrity READ posters, although I did put up the Brain Food Pyramid one here. Modeling good reading habits should not be excluded from the domain of the special librarian. Besides my office idiosyncrasies (which may well go unnoticed), I have only ventured as far as sharing resources such as Clay Shirky's "It's Not Information Overload. It's Filter Failure." video, a great article about minimizing social media distractions at work, and Leon Neyfakh's hilarious article about the bizarre set of behaviors some of us have that now require us to guiltily "Mark all items as (not) read" in Google Reader. Sometimes I think a good focused reading (and knowledge management) exercise would be to make all staff read each other's publications for a day and do nothing else. I can't make that happen, but I have vowed to read at least one entire GAO report per month out of the dozens that I process. My July choice is a bit daunting, but I am committed.

What else should we do to incorporate professional reading education in our information literacy and technology training? (Feel free to print and read this post to minimize link distractions, and please recycle.)

No comments: