The following is a guest post by Lara Lookabaugh, an intern working with the Digital Preservation Outreach and Education Initiative.
Recently, in one of my library school classes, I was assigned to watch a documentary about how the web affects our ability to learn. One segment tested the efficiency of self-proclaimed “multitaskers,” who often performed multiple web-based tasks simultaneously.
The test, not surprisingly, showed that these mutlitaskers were far more efficient when concentrating on one task at a time. The documentary got me thinking, however, about some of the web-based work that I do, and whether or not my methods are increasing my productivity. I thought first about a lot of ways in which the internet decreases my productivity: streaming television, multiple chat interfaces, and the ever-present cat video. Then I thought of ways the web makes me wildly more productive and actually enables me to be in multiple places at once.
One of my jobs at the Library is to monitor news and events in digital preservation for the Digital Preservation Outreach and Education initiative and email the most relevant and interesting bits to staff weekly. The web tools I use enable me to focus entirely on other work, while also having my internet eyes and ears open for every new blog post, news article, course, workshop, press release, call for papers, conference, etc. in the field of digital preservation. Right now, while I write this blog entry, I am also searching the web for multiple queries and checking over 30 sites for updates. When I was brushing my teeth, feeding my cats, and riding my bike this morning, I was still searching the internet, and checking all those sites. How’s that for efficient multitasking!
Most of my spooky internet magic comes in the form of email alerts, RSS feeds, and social bookmarking services. Email alerts send users updates based on their particular interests or queries. There are a number of different kinds of email alerts. Some are site-specific, meaning website visitors sign up to receive an email notification every time the site is updated (kind of like RSS, which I’ll get to in a moment).
Other email alerts notify users every time there is a new search result for a specific query. I have an alert set-up for “digital preservation,” and my email client sends me a notification whenever their web crawlers find a new instance of those words on the internet. I also have a number of other alerts set up for queries like “digital repository” and “digital curation.” Creating effective search terms is key here; otherwise I’d spend most of the time I am saving weeding through irrelevant results.
I also use RSS feeds to ensure that I know every time great digital preservation blogs and websites are updated. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication and uses XML to send users website updates as soon as they are published. So when I find a new source of digital preservation information, I add that site’s subscription to my RSS reader, and all the news comes directly to me.
The result of all this multitasking is that I usually end up with hundreds of articles to sort through and decide which to include in my weekly round-up. I choose articles that have been published within the last week about current digital preservation projects or events that I think are useful or interesting. I try to get information directly from the source, unless a secondary source has something particularly insightful to say about it. Then I include both. I like to include articles in my weekly lists that a lot of people are talking about and also articles that seemed to have slipped under the radar. When I find an article that I want to share, I use a social bookmarking service to bookmark it and tag it in a way that will help me remember what was interesting about it.
So tonight, after you’ve set up your own email alerts and RSS feeds and bookmarked your favorite sites, you can rest assured that while you might find yourself down an internet wormhole reading about the history of pretzels or something, you’re also keeping current in digital preservation.
My weekly listings are now slated to appear here on The Signal, so watch for them soon.