Currently aware (of just how much I’ll never know)

Thing 4 might be the most stressful post thus far, as it brings me face-to-face with my information overload fears. Current awareness has always been important to me, but it’s getting tougher and tougher to stay informed. Ironically, there’s simply too much information out there. My librarian skills may help me cope better than most, but it’s still frustrating.

Back in April, NPR brought me some solace with The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We’re All Going To Miss Almost Everything. Understanding this definitely keeps me humble. I have always been acutely aware that there’s a whole lot more stuff I don’t know than stuff I do know. That’s the way it should be.

Begin deep breathing.

Somehow, that doesn’t actually make me feel any better. How about you?

Photo credit: Will Lion

Perhaps, in the spirit of this week’s assignment, a discussion of current awareness tools is in order.

Twitter

I’ve been on Twitter (@nmbrock) since February 2009, though never very consistently until recently. The constant stream of information can be more than a little overwhelming, and I have to admit there are still days when I ignore it completely. However, I’m beginning to figure out the right combination of Twitter clients, lists, and saved searches that help me focus on the conversations I’d like to join.

I’m glad Annie mentioned #libchat and #sla2011 in her introduction to Thing 4, as those have been staples in my Twitter feed over the last month or two, in addition to the #cpd23 hashtag, of course. This has been the absolute best way to make connections with other librarians near and far, both virtually and in person. In fact, I credit my increased Twitter involvement for improving my in-person networking experiences at the 2011 SLA Conference. If not for Twitter, I wouldn’t have known about the Hack Library School meetup (or been adopted by the nice people from Pratt SILS), and I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the dinners and lunches with fellow nonprofit librarians. I’m not a natural networker, but building these connections beforehand really enhanced social aspect of my conference experience.

As for the news-gathering features of Twitter, I have been trying to use lists to help make more sense of the accounts I’m following, but haven’t quite gotten into the rhythm of checking them all. My favorite Twitter client so far is Twitter for Mac, as it’s the least invasive and distracting to read. However, there are perks to the multi-column tools like TweetDeck and Hootsuite, in that the layout makes it easier to remember to follow the lists and hashtags I’m interested in. I also kind of like being able to schedule tweets. I’m still bouncing back and forth between the tools to see which one suits me best.

Next steps: I’m eligible to upgrade my cell phone next week, so I will soon be investigating my smart phone options. This change may bring my Twitter participation to a whole new level.

RSS

I have a love-hate relationship with Google Reader. I love how I can train it to bring me the latest news from all over the web, but I hate how it never stops bringing me the latest news from all over the web. I am a news junkie with a healthy curiosity, so I can’t seem to stop myself from subscribing to new feeds. I am also, however, a completist (thanks to Lauren for pinning down the term). It drives me crazy to see that little unread feed number in parenthesis. These days, it’s a struggle to keep it below 1000+, and I can’t help but wonder what I’m missing. More often than not, I find myself guiltily vaporizing entire groups of feeds (here’s looking at you, Mashable) in order to bring the overall unread number to a more reasonable level. Even then, I don’t have time to read half of what I’d like to. I usually end up flipping through the stuff I don’t care as much about in order to bring the unread count down, while leaving the interesting pieces to read when I have more time. Trouble is, I rarely have more time. And when I do, there’s a brand new set of unread feeds to attend to. This is not a winning strategy.

In case I don’t seem overloaded enough already, I’m also a little worried that my dependence on RSS means that I’m not getting enough diverse perspectives. But honestly, I am not sure how to balance the feeds that I find generally enjoyable with those that may be disagreeable or boring more often than not.  I value diverse opinions and strive to be well-rounded, but it’s a daily struggle to balance my insatiable curiosity with my inherently finite capacity for information consumption. Is it possible to set up a filter that brings me the best stories of the day, rather than every story? How would I even begin to define what I think is best, anyway?

Next steps: Further explore filtering possibilities in Google Reader. Attempt to prune the RSS jungle.  Make peace with unread feed parenthesis.

Pushnote

Call me a bad cpd23-er if you will, but I could not care less about this tool. I have more than enough opportunities for current awareness with the tools I already use. Opening up a third fire hydrant might be enough to drown me.

However, if anyone who has experimented with Pushnote can tell me its advantages over Twitter or RSS, I would be willing to listen.

Photo credit: catspyjamasnz

So, if I’ve learned anything from Thing 4, it’s that I don’t have an information overload problem. I have a filter problem.

Clay Shirky first talked about this a couple years ago, and he does have a point. Information overload is nothing new, and it’s not going away. Why do we continue to struggle so much?

Because this post has already grown quite long, I won’t attempt to reflect on that question just yet. Instead, I’ll leave you with a few more questions. How can our librarian skills help us apply better filters? How can we teach these strategies to our similarly overwhelmed patrons, colleagues, family, and friends?

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13 Comments on “Currently aware (of just how much I’ll never know)”

  1. booksNyarn says:

    I will be very, very happy when my contract is up and I can get a smartphone again. I find Twitter has become more of a consistent part of my day, as have (the overwhelming) RSS feeds. I guess I should at least look at Pushnote?

  2. booksNyarn says:

    To answer your first question, I think it may be easier to instruct on filters for patrons than to emulate them? As a librarian and a parent, I definitely am of the school of “Do as I say, not as I do”!

  3. Pushnote has the potential to be a useful linking tool, it’s good because in theory its a comments page for everything online. But it needs users, I gave up on it for a long while, but an influx of cpd23 people may make it suddenly good.

  4. Phew! This is exactly how I feel! Thanks for pinning it down so precisely, I’m beginning to feel ready to confront my Thing 4…

  5. Well written! I feel exactly the same way about info overload – surely as a librarian I should be able to fight my way through the information jungle, considering I do it for my clients every day, but no, I’m constantly overwhelmed.

    I think the first challenge is to pick your platform – I spread myself too thinly across social media sometimes (see Thing 3!). I’m going to take one at a time (first stop Twitter) and try to set up useful filters. And try to accept that I can’t know everything that’s going on, all of the time! Easier said than done.

  6. […] the basic Twitter site, for starters – and I’m feeling swamped. As Nicole says over at Odd Librarian Out, “I don’t have an information overload problem. I have a filter […]

  7. Miss Scarlet says:

    Not really a helpful comment, but I like how you’re using images in this post!

  8. Melanie says:

    Right there with you on information overload. I try to block out time in my weekly schedule to review my Google Reader feeds, but my discipline there ebbs and flows. You’ve got me curious about effective filtering options – I may explore a bit myself. I was thinking that careful selection of feed subscriptions based on scope or depth of coverage may be a good starting point for me – there is often overlap on the blogs I follow, so maybe reviewing these sources and choosing only the best of the best would staunch the flow a bit. But then, like you, I wonder what I’m missing, and if I’ve excluded diverse voices…such the dilemma!

    • Nicole Brock says:

      I agree. I’m trying to figure out which ones are heaviest on duplicate info. Mashable’s incessant posts are the bane of my RSS reading existence. I’m seriously contemplating unsubscribing because most of the best stuff is picked up by other bloggers I follow. I just need to trust others to do the filtering for me!

  9. Erin says:

    Just found your blog Nicole :) Great post — and I, for one, am thrilled by your increased twitter use! As for pushnote… I explored it for CPD23, but found it more or less useless. – Erin

  10. 1000+ unread items a day?? That’s pretty wild. Have you ever looked at Summify? Another cpd23 participant pointed it out (http://inthemoodforlibrary.wordpress.com/) and I’ve been playing around with it as a sort of audition centre for my main RSS feeds. I write a bit about it here: http://dots-loops.tumblr.com/post/7610082964/giulio-of-in-the-mood-for-library-recommended-this

    It basically takes your Google Reader (and Facebook and Twitter too), assesses which links or articles are the most shared and then emails you a summary of the top stories every day. You can teach it what you like and don’t like to tweak those summaries too.

    • Nicole Brock says:

      Oh, I don’t get 1000+ NEW feeds a day! I just can never seem to read enough to get the total below the number. In the last week or so, I’ve been able to vaporize some of the older stuff and get the unread count it to under 100. It seems like I get anywhere from 200-300 new posts a day. Much of that comes from the more prolific tech/lifestyle blogs like Mashable and Lifehacker. I am *this close* to bailing on Mashable, since their stuff often gets repeated in other blogs I follow. I don’t need to be the first to know, right? My problem right now is that most of my feed reading time is trying to flip through these as fast as I can, not really leaving time for the meatier posts. I need to find a way for those to rise to the top, so I will definitely check out your post and explore Summify!


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