Book Review: Finding Your Element by Sir Ken Robinson

book cover of FInding Your ElementWe’ve heard about being “in the Zone” or more recently, experiencing “flow.” Sir Ken Robinson, Ph.D, introduces us to “The Element.”  The Element, like experiencing Flow, or The Zone, is that magical place where your intrinsic talent is paired with the explosive power of following your passion.  This is where we experience the highest levels of our success and where we feel the most inspired.

I had the treat of listening to the audio version of this book, which was read by the author. Besides enjoying his distinctive English accent, I also was able to experience his delightful wry humor all the more because he was delivering it himself.  If you’d like to get a peak into both his skilled delivery and message, check out one of the TED videos that he has recorded.

The most inspiring part of the book to me was the fascinating mix of stories that Robinson told of how many familiar personalities found their Element.  He recounted stories of Paul McCartney, Arianna Huffington (of Huffington Post fame), Richard Feynman, Mike Fleetwood (of Fleetwood Mac), gymnast Bart Conner and Vidal Sassoon to name only a few.  It is one thing to discuss a theory and quite another to see how many diverse ways individuals discover their Element.  And don’t worry, Robinson assures, if you haven’t found your Element yet — it can happen at any age, and you might even discover more than one passion too!

I loved seeing how creativity and imagination fueled great discoveries and advancement in so many varied fields from physics to math to journalism to music and art.  The author makes an impassioned discourse on how modern school systems are moving in totally the wrong direction with their focus on standardized test scores and No Child Left Behind.  These movements resulted in the removal of arts programs and many of the more creative and organic ways of learning through discovery in order to make time for extra teaching targeted specifically on teaching the material on standardized tests so as to boost test scores.

Robinson also does a good job of explaining the importance of finding like-minded individuals to support and stretch you.  They don’t necessarily have to share your particular passion, though that is ideal.  Individuals in complementary fields can often offer a broadening of the applications of your Element.  Robinson calls this important group of people your Tribe.  I really liked this discussion because I could relate to my personal experiences of having Tribes in my life.  Not only is it more fun to talk to others who share your passion, your tribe offers support and inspiration.  It was, in part, looking for a PKM librarian ‘tribe’ that led us to creating this blog in the first place, so that concept is near and dear to my heart.

Robinson closes, as do I, with a wonderful quote from the great Michaelangelo:

“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”


What IS Personal Knowledge Management Anyway?


I was recently asked why I wrote this blog, and how I would define Personal Knowledge Management.  As we approach yet another academic year, I thought now might  be an appropriate time to readdress this topic.  This seems like it should be an easy question, especially for an author of a blog about the topic.

The problem is, PKM is a slippery character, meaning different things to different people and used in totally different contexts.  One explanation that is simplistic, but that I particularly like, I first heard on an online video with Harold Jarche in October 2010.

In this video, he describes PKM as a process.  It is the way in which we make sense of the noise around us.  We process all that information in various ways, weeding out helpful from disposable.  We might write about it, talk to other people about it or simply think about it.  From that synthesis process, we begin to create our own ideas about the information we received.

L. Efimova in the 2006 article “Understanding Personal knowledge management: a weblog case”  defines PKM as “an approach that complements organizational KM by focusing on ways to support productivity of an individual knowledge worker.”  This places PKM firmly into the professional world without considering the after-work aspect of a person’s private life and the knowledge management needed there as well.  I feel like this is short changing the true personal complexity of the issue.

Patti Anklam from “the app gap”  described PKM in 2009 as “the tools that we use and strategies we employ that make it easier for us to identify, locate, and process knowledge.”

In each of these definitions, the emphasis is on the synthesis and processing of information into knowledge.  This synthesis and evaluation process is the facet of the PKM definition that I think separates it from another term that is often used interchangeably with it: Personal Information Management (PIM).

Priti Jan (“Personal Knowledge management: the foundation of organizational knowledge management” in SA JNL Libs & Info Sci 2011, 77(1) )  identifies several key characteristics common to PKM:

  1. The scope is limited to personal knowledge.
  2. It encompasses working, private and social knowledge of the individual.
  3. The goal is to make the knowledge easy to access and use
  4. The process never ends… it is dynamic.

So PKM is our attempt to make sense of our own corner of the world.  Isn’t this one of the core desires of most librarians who enter the field?  We all seem to have a desire to create some sort of order of all the information that our libraries collect so the user can access and use it.  Perhaps, instead of being something brand new, PKM is simply another library to order, albeit a library many times bigger than any other.  Therefore, who should be better equipped to tackle this 21st century problem than librarians?

Twitter for Researchers

I was recently revising my Library Research Guide on Productivity Tools for Graduate Students and found myself bounding down the Twitter for Researchers’ rabbit hole once again, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to share some of my latest findings with you as well as remind you of some of my favorites.

Nature offered a nice article several years back which is still relevant for budding scientists today: Social Media as a Scientist. Nature Methods also  looked at how scientists were using Twitter this past month with their informal survey of why being active on Twitter offers measurable benefits in Tweet, Tweet.

An oldie but goody is the 2011 article Using Twitter in University Research, Teaching and
Impact activities: A guide for academics and researchers where the authors take users from creating a twitter id through hashtags and to use Twitter in research.  A more recent book chapter on Using Twitter as a Data Source is from The Ethics of Online Research. Advances in Research Ethics and Integrity (2). (Emerald, 2017, ISBN 978-1-78714-486-6)

In these days of social distancing, many are faced with converting their university lab/office to the realm of online research, but Katy Hosbein and Joi Walker were far ahead of the curve since Katy has been doing remote postdoc work for Joi since July 2019.  Read their story in  It’s a Competitive Advantage:  Scientists tout benefits of hiring remote postdocs in May 2020 Science Magazine. Katy uses Twitter to keep connected with other researchers. offers this list of 101 Twitter Accounts Every #PhD Should Follow. It is a list worth evaluating for some real gems.  I did see The Thesis Whisperer, The Research Whisperer, and PhD2Published, so there are some must follow handles in there for PhD students.

Visualizing Twitter Communities

Ever wished you could visually explore for twitter connections on topics of interest?  Enter Bluenod. Bluenod lets you see Twitter community members and their connections, key hashtags and who are the key influencers based on your topic of interest. Its not free, but a free trial is available. For 10 other Awesome Twitter Analytics and Visualization Tools,  check out the list at  While you are there, wander over to the Ultimate List of Twitter Tools; it is pretty cool.

Want to dive down your own rabbit hole?  Try the Developer site for Twitter and start exploring their resources for Academic Researchers.

What is your favorite Twitter tool?  How do you best use Twitter for your academic pursuits?

Anxieties on Multiple Fronts…

Confused by decisions

As the world continues to reopen and take cautious (or hasty) steps toward a new normal, we are surrounded on all sides by competing voices, expectations, advisories and theories.

Do you see yourself in any of these descriptions listed by Richard Saul Wurman in his book,  “Information Anxiety 2”?

  • “I find myself frequently bemoaning the fact that I just can’t seem to keep up with everything going on.
  • I feel guilty whenever I think about all the reading that is piling up in my inbox, my briefcase, my ereader and desk.
  • Everyone else knows all about the topics that I don’t.
  • I have a fear of “missing” critical information when I’m searching.
  • I’m so busy finding all the information sources, I don’t have time to read and digest what I’ve found.
  • I have difficulty efficiently sorting through all the “noise” of information I receive to identify the nuggets of information I am seeking.”

If any of these sentiments sound familiar, you may be joining the growing crowd of individuals who are suffering anew from “information anxiety”(IA) in this brave new world of ours.  Information anxiety is the cost we experience when information overload occurs.  Wurman defines IA as “the ever-widening gap between what we understand and what we think we should understand. It is the black hole between data and knowledge, and what happens when information doesn’t tell us what we want or need to know.” 

Baldwin and Robertson (“The Dark Side of Information: Overload, Anxiety and Other Paradoxes and Pathologies”, Journal of Information Science 35(2) 2009, pp. 185) says IA is more than just a reaction to the volumes of information that we are faced with on a daily basis. Also adding to our stress is the difficulty experienced when trying to locate information when needed  as well as the inability to use and understand the information that is already available. Sometimes, they assert, the information may be incomplete, but just as often the problem may be that the information obtained is disorganized and gathered in a piecemeal fashion from a number of different resources.

Carol Tenopir (“Online Information Anxiety”, Library Journal  115(13) 1990, p 62) relates the effect of IA to the challenges faced by librarians, stating, “With access to hundreds of bibliographic, directory, full-text, numeric databases online, the fundamental problem of today isn’t finding information, it is filtering and helping users make sense of all we find.”

So what does this mean to us as librarians? Even as some voices are declaring the brick and mortar library (and its librarians) superfluous in this age where individuals can consult the Web for all their information needs, we also see a refocused attention on the issues of information overload and information anxiety (along with every other type of anxiety) in business, academia and the general population as we all struggle to cope with the deluge of conflicting information this pandemic has created.  And people are stepping up to address the issues.  They call themselves information experts, business consultants, social media gurus and productivity coaches just to name a few titles. The underlying concepts they are applying, however, are very familiar to librarians. They are simply applying and adjusting them to address the information environment of today: a world connected by information streaming from many different media forms at a faster pace than ever before.

We need to repackage our very capable skill sets and redefine what this new world imagines a librarian and a physical library to be.  Our users need us as never before.  We need to come together, all our creativity and skills in hand to meet the new challenges that are now before us.  We are supremely equipped, socially distancing appropriate, to join our virtual hands and meet the needs of our users with the united knowledge and expertise of our profession as never before.

Brave (?) New World

lonely dogAs the days continue to pass, many are dealing with the stresses of our new world.  We are all dealing with varying degrees of loneliness, disengagement and wondering what lies ahead as we traverse these new ways of living in our world.  Like our pictured pup, the way forward may seem a little uncertain without many signposts to guide our way.

Experts offer us countless ways we can cope while “Staying Home During the Pandemic,” and offer “Tips for How to Stay Happy in Troubling Times.”   Some talk about the difficulties of  couples dealing with COVID-19 cabin fever, others just want to know “How to Reduce the Stress of Homeschooling on Everyone.” Psychology Today even offers us “70 Ways to Cope with COVID-19 Anxiety,” and The Psychologist offers this sobering look at “Grieving at a Social Distance.”

Those of us in the educational world have the added challenge of meeting the needs of many of our displaced students who, without their desire or consent, found themselves abruptly shifted to the world of online education. In addition to course content, graduate students are also faced with uncertain or suspended research assistance positions, the need for extending their current funding and the necessity to extend their time-to-degree deadlines. Their detailed thesis and research plans may be a total wash as access to research subjects, labs, specialized archives and libraries are limited or in some cases impossible.  Even those with all they need to continue their work are often confronted with new, heavier family responsibilities.  APA offers these helpful suggestions to those doing research during this difficult time: “Conducting Research during COVID-19 pandemic.” While good ideas, it far from answers all the questions still out there for students going forward.

So what will our Brave (?) New World after COVID-19 look like?  Devon Price muses on “What will Post-Quarantine Trauma Look Like,” and the latest issue of the open-access, peer-reviewed journal Population and Economics by Lomonosov Moscow State University (Faculty of Economics) offers a place for discussion on the impact of the pandemic on the population and economics, both from the perspective of Russia and worldwide. Inside Higher Ed offered three post-pandemic predictions in their article “Teaching and Learning after COVID-19.”  But everything is still very much in the beginning stages as we all grapple with the world in which we now find ourselves.  Stay tuned.  It won’t be a boring adventure for sure!


Photo Credit thanks go to : By Zahra Alijani – Own work, CC BY 4.0,

Book Review Redux: The Mindful Librarian

I am doing something I do not normally do on this site.  Given the state of the world and the upside-downness that many librarians are facing during this COVID-19 crisis, I am reposting a review of an excellent book I reviewed last year:  The Mindful Librarian.  I hope it helps some readers take a deep breath and recenter over the coming days.

Blessings from

One particularly reflective book that I have read recently is The Mindful Librarian (by authors: Richard Moniz, Joe Eshleman, Jo Henry, Howard Slutsky and Lisa Moniz. Published in 2016. ISBN: 9780081005552.}

To quote from the back cover: ” In an academic environment of rapid change and doing more with less, librarians are increasingly challenged to manage stress, remain resilient, and take a proactive approach to complex issues that affect our profession.”

The book is geared to academic librarians or the solo school librarian, and addresses the topic of mindfulness in education, with special emphasis on higher education.  They begin with a grounding chapter in the concepts of Mindfulness, how it began, the science of mindfulness and some resources for further exploration of the mindfulness concept. The authors then explore the use of mindfulness concepts specifically in the broader field of education, and then the specific field of the undergraduate research process. In particular, one of the authors discusses in some detail his program for “creating a more mindful research paper.”

The focused application of mindfulness techniques to the field of librarianship begins in earnest in the fourth chapter and continues through the remainder of the text.  We have chapters on mindfulness and the ACRL Framework for Instruction, mindfulness and reference services, mindfulness when building relationships with faculty and mindfulness in library leadership positions. The final chapter tackles how mindfulness can enhance the solo librarian’s experience.

The authors draw parallels throughout between mindfulness concepts of staying in the present moment and deep listening  to the core tenants of librarianship. The authors share that “Deep knowledge about yourself enable you to be consistent, to present yourself authentically, as you are.”  These are key attributes that help build rapport with others and increase our ability to be approachable to those we serve.

I liked the wealth of recommended reading sections at the close of each chapter. I loved Tim Ryan’s quote (p 52): “The goal of mindfulness is to make you more focused and aware, so your mind and body can be in the same place at the same time.”

I also liked the author’s perspective of seeing the research paper as a journey with each stage important.. rather than a rush to the finished product. Lao Tzu (p 53) says “nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” The book is peppered throughout with many such insightful quotes that would take me far too long to share them all, and would rob you, the reader, from the joy of finding them yourselves when you read this worthwhile text.

The chapter on reference services had a number of role-played examples of the mindful, and not-so-mindful librarian and his/her interactions with students that makes for entertaining reading.

Don’t skip over the chapter on leadership, even if you have no intentions of ever being a member of your library leadership team.  There are a number of insights that apply to librarians at all levels of an organization specifically about mindful communication, and how you also practice leadership from the middle of the organization as well.

How is your burnout meter running right now?  While the final chapter of the book is focused for the solo librarian, a valuable discussion of librarian burnout, a hot topic these days, can be found in this chapter. All said, The Mindful Librarian is a lovely way to restart the new year and new semester world we find outselves in today in a more thoughtful, connected frame of mind. Enjoy!