Year for Productivity: Session 7: Notebook Software

year_productivity_graphic_7We’ve spent several weeks now talking about ways to manage our calendars, our mail and our to-do lists. What about all those websites, blog posts, articles, quotes, images, emails, slide presentations, videos and the like that we all run across each day as we go throughout our day?  They may touch us, inspire us, spark ideas that we want to go back to implement later – the only thing we know for sure is that we want to be able to find these items again when we want them. It would also be very nice if we could categorize them somehow so miscellaneous items on the same or similar subjects were together.  How to capture and file this mishmash of varied topics and formats so that we can get them again wherever we are at the time can be daunting.  This is where the power of Notebook Software can add real value to your productivity tool chest.

What is notebook software?  I’ll bet you have used (or even created!) collections in notebook software already and not even realized it.  Have you ever used LiveBinders?  This application is a very simplistic example of notebook software. It allows the creator to save websites, articles, etc under tabs and subtabs with one tab for each item.  If you are a librarian, chances are very good that you have created research guides using LibGuides (or a similar system). LibGuides is an excellent example of notebook software.  It provides a framework that allows the user to customize the look as well as the content of the guide.  Each guide is made up of tabbed pages and subpages, and the information on each page is arranged via containers (or widgets or “boxes”… however you think of it). All sorts of information can be stored in those containers – textual as well as graphic and video.  If you love LibGuides (or LiveBinders) you will probably find Microsoft OneNote to be appealing.  It is like LibGuides on steroids with many more layers of sections/pages/subpages/ etc. and where items reside in freeform container arrangements on a page.

While Google is currently in the news regarding its launching of it’s beta product, Google Keep, which some are calling the newest notebook software on the block, there are already two powerhouse options in the notebook software arena that I would like to suggest you explore: Microsoft OneNote and Evernote. Both products have free versions with varied limitations on their functionality and storage space, and both have full-featured versions that can be purchased.  Microsoft OneNote is automatically a part of Microsoft Office packages or can be purchased as a stand-alone product. Evernote Premium is an annual subscription.  I’m not going to take our time today to compare/contrast all the capabilities and features of these two products.  Mary and I have already done that in an article we published last year for Online where we also outlined lots of examples of how librarians might use notebook software at work; reading it will be one of the exercises for this session.

Which product should you use?  That decision is somewhat based on personal preference and is not necessarily an either/or choice.  I actually use both products.


    • Mary and I share Evernote (Premium version) notebooks where we store links, book covers; notes on readings, etc for our blog topics.  We’ve actually organized this entire year-long productivity program using a combination of Evernote and Docear(for the initial mind map brainstorming of the program structure).  It has been working pretty well for us. We created notes for each of the 26 sessions and both of us add links, text snippets, graphics, etc to all the notes as we run across items that fit the various categories.  I love this organizational setup.  Often, by the time we reach the week for a topic, we already have a long laundry list of items to consult.


I choose to use OneNote for my personal notebooks. The hierarchical organizational structure with all the different levels of pages, sections and notebooks appeals to my “scrapbooking” mentality.  I have a variety of different notebooks:

    • I have one notebook on Astronomy – another of my research interests. It contains lecture notes from open source classes, stunning photos, books I’d like to read, links to interactive sites, notes I’ve taken on articles & books, etc. I always make a point of showing this notebook to my graduate students as an example of how notebook software could help the research process go more smoothly as they create their theses, dissertations and research articles.
    • I also love using my OneNote notebook called “wish list” where I save ideas for gifts for others, lists of books I want to read, borrow from various libraries, find in used book stores or order new.  Likewise for music, dvds, figurines, etc.  Using this notebook has freed me from stacks of lists, screen prints and scratch paper reminders of items I’m thinking about. It has also given me a common place to keep track of which sister got which gift last year.
    •  I have a health notebook where I keep articles, websites, etc about health issues that I research.  By scanning copies of my bloodwork or other lab results, I also have one easy place to find all the details I need on those topics.
    • I particularly love my Quotes notebook.  I have pages and sections by topic, storing inspirational quotes, quotes I know I’ll use sometime on my blog or in my work, passages from books that I want to keep, etc.
    • I have a quilting notebook.  I collect pictures of quilts, books I’m interested in on the subject, I have one whole section devoted to pictures of quilts to which I contributed blocks for the ALA Biblioquilters’ quilt auctions. I keep articles and videos describing quilting techniques, a list of websites and notes from classes I’ve taken.

The more I use Evernote and OneNote, the more uses I find for them both.  Consistently, the feedback from students taking my Productivity Tools for Graduate Students workshop cite learning about Evernote and OneNote to be the most valuable thing they learned during our time together.  As you are exploring these two tools, I challenge you to also consider how your users might also benefit from learning about them.  You might find you have a double-hitter: a new tool to help you be more productive AND a new way to offer additional value to your users.

For Further Exploration and Insights:

1. Read our article “Noteworthy Productivity Tools for Personal Knowledge Management.”  Can you think of other practical applications of these products?  Share with all of us in the comments. A community of minds makes a better experience for all.

2. Explore The Secret Weapon site.  How could part (or all) of this system work in your life?  If you are not an Evernote user, what techniques could you apply in OneNote or the application of your choice?

Selected Readings:

Multi-Platform Resources:

Axford, Mary, & Renfro, Crystal. (2012). Noteworthy Productivity Tools for Personal Knowledge Management. Online, 36(3), 33-36.

Notebook Software: Evernote and Microsoft OneNote LibGuide

Sheffner. (March 2012)  Going paperless: tips from a OneNote and Evernote user

 Evernote Resources:

Cybrary Man’s Educational Web Sites:  A large list of links on Evernote:

Jones, Jordan. (November 2012)  How to Use Evernote for Genealogical Research. Jordan, president of the National Genealogical Society recently wrote this piece on the Evernote blog.

Malespina, Elissa.  Evernote In Education.  This is a LiveBinder which includes an extensive list ideas for using Evernote in the classroom.

Murray, Katherine. (February 2012) My Evernote. Que Publishing.

My Simple Curiosity Blog. (January 2013) GTD with Evernote:

Pontefract, Dan (December 2012) I Wrote a 90,000 Word Book Entirely in Evernote.

Peironcely, Julio. 3 Mandatory Tools For Digital Scientists

Samuel, Alexandra. 8 Ways Evernote Can Help You Get More From Your Research in 2013.  “ The Evernote blog has some useful items, and it has “ambassadors” – blog contributors who blog about using Evernote in their profession and/or areas of interest. Alexandra Samuel, the author of this blog post, might be a good person to follow, as her ideas about managing research using Evernote in this blog post are worthwhile. As a bonus, at the bottom of this article are links to PDFs for using Evernote in different contexts, including 10 Ways to Use Evernote for a Productivity Boost.” (Mary posted this annotation in her Link Roundup #3 here on our blog.)

Sarna, David E. Y. (April 2012) Evernote for Dummies, For Dummies Publishing.

The Secret Weapon site.  GTD + Evernote:

Witson, Gordon. (March 2013).  I’ve Been Using Evernote All Wrong. Here’s Why It’s Actually Amazing.  Be sure to also read through the comments.  There is a good discussion of IFTTT and Evernote buried in there.

 OneNote Resources:

Basu, Saikat. (August 2012) 10 Awesome OneNote Tips You Should Be Using All The Time [Windows].

Office OneNote GEM Add-ins: Learning and OneNote.  Nice overview of how college students might use OneNote.

Oldenburg, Michael C. (September 2011) Using Microsoft OneNote 2010, Que Publishing.

One Note and Law School: Beginner’s Guide. Posted on, this is a nice example of how a workflow might incorporate OneNote. Lawyers have some of the most detailed examples of using OneNote in their work of any profession I have found to date.

Pointer, Caroline. This genealogist recently put together a fabulous YouTube video, Using OneNote for Research Plans, that I found to be incredibly helpful. (only 12 minutes)

Ramsdell, Heather. (November 2011) LiveBinders and OneNote: Eliminating Paper in Course Projects

Wheatfill, Michael (2011) Using GTD with OutLook + Onenote:  A series of blog entries:


Calendar Image courtesy of ammer/

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