Of Notes, Books – and Split Personalities

20 Jul
  • I read lots of books
  • I have an electronic note-taking system
  • I use Library Thing

What’s everyone think? Should I exchange the first three lines of my profile for the above? I was pretty deliberate about how I introduced myself when I began this blog. I wanted to make sure folks understood that I’m a complete, 100% amateur and that when I discuss medieval history it is absolutely not from any authoritative/authoritarian standpoint – just the ramblings of a guy who’s read a few things and loves talking about it. I never gave much thought to just what makes me an amateur. Obviously, there’s the fact of not getting paid. But a couple of recent posts from Jonathan Jarrett and Magistra et Mater got me thinking about how very differently I approach my medieval hobby when compared with my real job.

My real job is an academic one – I’m not a professor but I work for a university and I work with information. I think most people would consider my hobby to have a lot of academic elements – I don’t dress up in a suit of armor or even collect coins or other artifacts. I read books and some journals and try to learn. Despite the fact that my job and my hobby both deal extensively with information, I approach the two entirely differently.

Let’s start with note-taking. My “professional” note-taking system is much closer to the one described by Jonathan than the one I use for Medieval History. Now it isn’t identical, but at work I have subject files – three 4-drawer cabinets of ’em. I have two full bookcases and a couple of rows of wall shelving. And I have boxes of information on some arcane stuff in the basement of my building. When I come across something interesting I generally print it off, fill in the margins with notes, maybe write a brief summary for my use and stuff it in the appropriate folder. My bookshelves have a total of 8 shelves – only two of those have books. The others are for subjects that became so large that they don’t fit in files any longer but have been put in three ring binders. I don’t do any – nada – electronic note-keeping or indexing, though I will save PDF’s.

I had never given this any thought before but if you look at how things are arranged/organized at home for my medieval stuff vs. work, I doubt you’d think this was the work of the same person. And here’s the real kicker – I’m a huge reader at home. Tons of books. I sometimes feel overcome by the urge to buy. Sometimes I go a bit overboard when it comes to medieval books. I could not tell you the last time I read a book – an entire, complete whole book, cover-to-cover – for work. I’ve read chapters of books. I’ve checked books out of the library, read sections, took notes, and copied pages of interest. But I haven’t read a whole book in forever. It’s all magazines, scientific journals, conferences, meetings, field days, conversations with colleagues, committee work sessions, RSS feeds and e-mail – at work, I don’t do books.

For my hobby, I keep track of my books on Library Thing. It was Magistra’s most recent post discussing Library Thing that really got me thinking about this dichotomy. I have zero compulsion to put anything I use at work on my Library Thing Page. But I religiously enter Medieval stuff. On my home computer I keep a book database including a massive wish list – nothing remotely like it for work.

E-mail is yet another divergence. At work I keep e-mail I don’t delete in my Outlook inbox until it bursts. It’s only grudgingly, painfully, that I’ll delete them – generally after printing them off and stuffing ’em in a file. My home Outlook has multiple folders and it’s rare that an e-mail sits around for more than a week before I either delete it, save it to a subject file on my PC, or at least move it to one of the dozen or so Outlook folders.

I have no idea what this means – I keep my personal and professional life pretty segregated. I do take work home but it’s along the lines of “if I get some spare time with nothing to do I’ll work on it.” If there’s something I have to get done, I go to the office as my efficiency is much better there. For whatever reason, my approaches for dealing with my hobby information (hopefully anyone who’s read this blog much knows it’s a hobby I respect very much and take quite seriously) and my work information are very, very different. This seems a bit strange to me, but it’s the way it is – and I have no particular desire to change how I deal with either my work, or my medieval, information.

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Posted by on July 20, 2010 in Uncategorized


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