Do You Have Information Anxiety?

Decisions 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 suffer from “information anxiety”(IA).  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 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 in business, academia and the general population.  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 the world imagines a librarian to be.  Our users need us as never before.  They just have to realize it.

Mary’s Information Ecosystem

Whirling Piece of Chaos

Organization?  We don’ need no stinkin’ organization!

Sadly, I am not one of those people for whom organization comes naturally.  At one time I thought of myself as a whirling piece of chaos.  It’s not that I approved of this, or wanted it, but things just seemed to spin off that way out of my control.  My mind is also the kind that sees the big picture but can be oblivious to details, and I like to think I’m the creative type. For those familiar with Myers-Briggs personality typing, I score high on both intuition and perception.  I’m envious of my co-blogger Crystal who manages to be both creative and organized.

I finally realized that work was a place I could be better organized, and I’m slowly working on it.  My email is now much better organized than it was, with folders and subfolders.

As a librarian, I don’t do a lot of original research.  I get to know about a lot of research tools (you should see my page of Google Alerts and my RSS feeds – Oy Vey!) but tend to focus on the forest rather than the trees.  For example, I’ve used Zotero for a project or two but am by no means a power user knowing all the tricks and nuances.

Evernote I am using and loving, learning to be a power user.  So far I have used it more for my personal life.  For example it is marvelous for storing information about an upcoming appointment at a place I’ve never been.  I save the name, phone number, and directions/map, and have it all accessible in the Evernote app for my smartphone.  We have been using it to organize our plans for this blog, and have a notebook for ideas for new posts.  So it is evolving into more of a tool for work life as well as home life.

It may seem odd, but I consider LibGuides, the software for creating research and class guides, a part of my information ecosystem.  As a librarian, it is how I package information for the use of my students and faculty in my liaison areas, and this is much more a part of my job than doing original research.  We have around 16 subject librarians at my university, but I’ve probably published half or more of the research guides.  In part it is because I’d rather do a set of related guides than have three or four rows of tabs (pages) on one guide.  Partly it is because two of my liaison areas, Public Policy and International Affairs, have many great web-accessible sources.  Another factor is that I was responsible for training other librarians on using the software, so I had to jump in and use it.  So now if a professor wants a session on using library resources for her class, it is a snap to spin up a LibGuide to use as a framework for teaching the session and something the students can use to jump start their research.

If PKM is only about managing the amount of information one absorbs, LibGuides doesn’t count.  But if PKM includes the tools one uses to be productive, and in my mind it does, LibGuides is a top tool in my information ecosystem.

I have also recently begun to use mind mapping.  I am not an expert yet, but was shocked at how well a mind map brough clarity to the organization of an article being written.  I used Mindjet  Connect, because it is free, web-based, allows links and attachments, and exports to Evernote.

To summarize, my information ecosystem includes:


Why a blog on Personal Knowledge Management for Librarians?

293: E = Ergophobia

I first became aware of Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) as a specific area of study when Elisabeth Shields, now a friend and co-author of this blog, was the featured speaker at one of our Library Faculty Organization meetings at Georgia Tech.  I was so interested in her presentation that I later struck up a friendship with her and our other blog co-author, Mary Axford.  Over the next year, we met occasionally for lunch to discuss PKM, while each continued to explore, in our spare time, our own areas of interest in the PKM world.  What I discovered was that while literature on the parent field of Knowledge Management (KM) proliferated, PKM was more elusive.  I also discovered that people were talking about PKM topics, but calling them very different things.  Personal Information Management, Personal Learning Environment, Academic Workflow, Time Management, Information Overload were all terms that led me to discussions touching on various facets of PKM.  People appeared to be talking about PKM without often knowing they were doing so. There were blogs and online videos reviewing software tools that aided in PKM and described personal experiences on how the various authors had solved some aspect of information management in their lives. What I found more difficult to locate were academic level discussions of the PKM theory and practical applications, especially as it related to librarians and their users.  This was surprising to me, a reference librarian who dealt daily with Information Overload and PKM both personally and professionally as I tried to help students manage the myriad of challenges they faced blending personal life and scholastic endeavors.  For me, this blog is a way for Elisabeth, Mary and me to continue our PKM discussions and hopefully meet new friends that want to join us on our journey of discovery.

Elisabeth has already shared her personal knowledge management ecosystem.  Mine is still very much in development.  I’m in that “trying things out” stage. Here are the main tools I’m working with today:

Calendar:  I use our work calendar (Zimbra) as my main calendar.  It keeps me informed of work meetings as well as personal appointments (which can be made private from the rest of my work world if I so choose). My calendar is a main tool when I’m writing my performance evaluation each year. I review the monthly entries to make sure I remember to report all my personal learning classes & seminars, my major projects as well as some of those intensive, impromptu projects that we all do and then forget about by the end of the year.

Mail:  I have a multitude of folders and sub-folders where I keep track of mail related to projects.  It works very well for me now and using my folders and my mailbox search, I can usually find information quickly that my team is trying to remember.  What I don’t like about this method is that I recognize it is unstable.  Right now, we have very high limits on our mail capacity, but there is always the danger of system problems crashing my mail.. or a forced conversion to a new system (which happened a few years ago) where the folder/sub-folder setup I’ve created may be lost. I’m keeping my eye out for what I want to do in this area for the long-term.

Microsoft OneNote: I am lucky enough to have the Microsoft Office 2010 suite at work and on my work laptop.  So therefore I also have Microsoft OneNote.  I think in folders and hierarchical organization, so I find OneNote  (along with Microsoft Skydrive to sync between computers) to be a great “scrapbook” for me, both personally and professionally.

Evernote: Mary has also converted me to use Evernote for some things.  I especially use it for the collaborative space the three of us share for blog ideas, PKM info, etc. I’ve found this a particularly nice place to store notes of important tips I discover when reading books about PKM and tools.

Sticky Notes:  This is the neatest tool!  Along with Snipping Tool, this is one of the most useful things I’ve ever found in the ACCESSORIES folder of my computer.  Sticky Notes are exactly that… square notes that will attach themselves to your desk top.  You can move them around, change their color, change the note information, change the size, etc.  But I have YET to have one disappear… my computer crashes, I log off, my battery runs out… My cheerful little sticky notes bounce right back on the home page as I log in.  I love them for to do lists, reminders of things to check back on..I even have a personal inspirational one for some time management techniques I’m trying out.

So there you have it.  My beginnings of a personal knowledge management ecosystem. What other ideas are some of you readers using?


What is your personal knowledge management ecosystem?

Elisabeth here, wondering what your PKM ecosystem consists of.  Someone at THATCamp last week said she hadn’t thought of herself as having a personal knowledge management system, so let me elaborate:

Personal knowledge management is an activity people have been grappling with long before there were technology tools of the type we have today – but now it has a new label and there is more information coming at us as well as more tools.  What did we have 15 years ago – file folders, piles, bulletin boards, sticky notes, index cards, highlighters, dog-earing . . . ?

Typically, we didn’t ask how well those worked together.  Now, some of us are searching for the tool that will do it all for us – here are the functions that need doing on my list (in addition to the doctors’ phone numbers and the shopping list):

  • drop random thoughts in easily
  • store results of article database searches in subject folders
  • extract citation data and reformat it in different styles
  • save things I find on the web, or allow me to re-find them easily
  • help me organize our ideas
  • help me make sense of our ideas
  • store articles I want to read
  • let me make notes on those articles
  • tag articles with different subjects/keywords
  • search the texts of articles I’ve stored
  • let me write more productively than typical word processors
I still yearn for one tool, although years ago, when I took a personal knowledge management workshop with Steve Barth, who was about the only expert at the time, he told me I’d have to  give up that dream.  It took me years to accept that he was right.  Why?  I can find a tool that does one or two of these things the way I like to do them, and that does it really well.  The more functions it adds, the less likely I am to be satisfied by the way it does all of them.  And the less likely it is that it will do them all well.  Bigger programs tend to be clumsier and slower.
So I have not one PKM tool that does everything for me, but a PKM ecosystem. Here are the main software pieces, several of which I have used for years:
  • Evernote, my “junk drawer” :  it’s quick and easy to throw things in here, and I don’t have to think about how I want to classify them, but it’s also easy to re-find them (unlike my physical junk drawer).  This is the first stop for most things, and many will never need another home.  Some get tagged or put in a special notebook within Evernote; I also go through periodically and put some in another container, depending on how I want to use it.  Evernote is available on my Android phone, on and offline, and online on my Android tablet (which runs an ancient version of Android, since the manufacturer went out of business almost as soon as I bought it – hardware components are another post).
  • Zotero, for scholarly sources.  I still use the Firefox version, though I have the freestanding version as well.  One reason I stick with Zotero: it has metadata categories for source types beyond books and articles, such as blog posts, podcasts, interviews, cases, patents, etc.  Also, I like the fact that the main working interface is my machine; I am sometimes in the mountains with wretched internet service, and cloud-based storage would not work for me.  I love the notes features – both child notes (about articles) and free-standing notes, which I often use at the end of the day to note what progress I have made during the day (i.e., finished searching x database with search terms a, b, c, and here are my thoughts about how to start tomorrow)
  • TheBrain, a dynamic information mapper (most people would call it a mind map, but that term has negative associations for me, so I talk about information or idea mappers).   This is where I put things I want to visualize in web form.  It has copious notes fields and can handle many forms of attachments.  It’s the only one of my tools that requires a non-negligible expense, though I don’t consider it expensive.  One thing I love is that it recenters itself around whatever ide
    a I click on, so I am never lost on the fringe of my web.
  • Compendium , when I want to structure complex arguments logically, or track a wide-ranging discussion over time.

These are the main elements in my ecosystem – what are in yours?  How well are they working for you?  Where is your workflow breaking down?  What do you wish worked better?  What would entice you to change?

Note: TheBrain, PersonalBrain and WebBrain are trademarks or registered trademarks of TheBrain Technologies LP. Used with permission.


Welcome to Academic PKM!  I am Mary Axford, one of the blog’s ruling triumvirate.  The three of us – Crystal, Elisabeth, and myself – all come to the topic of PKM and productivity from somewhat different though overlapping viewpoints and interests.  We hope that makes for a stronger blog as we complement (as well as compliment) each other.

My interest in personal knowledge management (PKM) has grown out of my interest in library technology and is still anchored in it.  Since new productivity technologies and apps come out every day, I feel rather like the easily-distracted Dug the Dog in the movie Up, who announced his distraction (squirrel!) as he galumphed away to chase it.  I find myself often distracted by a shiny new toy of an app and want to tell you about it RIGHT THIS MINUTE.  In fact, many of those shiny toys don’t apply to academic libraries or our users, or duplicate what another product already does well.  So I will attempt to temper my enthusiasm and ask questions such as:

  • Is this product useful for librarians or those they serve [we will cover technology useful for faculty and students as well as librarians]
  • Is it specifically useful for productivity?  How do we define productivity?
  • Which trends in technology and services are having the most impact on productivity?  Is the impact negative, positive, or a combination of the two?

I am sure it is not original to her, but I remember being struck, while reading Meredith Farkas’ book Social Software in Libraries, by her insistence that Library 2.0 not be an end in itself, but that libraries evaluate new technologies by asking if it answers a need.  That will be my watchword for my blog entries.

Your comments will be valued and contribute to making this blog a dialog.

PKM and the digital humanities

Crystal, Mary and I had the opportunity to attend a THATCamp, a digital humanities camp, at the Atlanta University Center last week.  All three of us work more with  science, engineering and the social sciences than with the humanities; though I now support graduate work in the humanities at Kennesaw State, my career up till now has been with social and economic development and entrepreneurship, so I am just learning how people in humanities work.

I presented a typology of tools for PKM with examples of each type, and Crystal and Mary presented Evernote and OneNote in more depth.  From the discussions, we found that people in the humanities face the same kinds of issues as the folks we have been dealing with, that morass of mostly unstructured qualitative information which were not handled well by old-style personal information managers, with their largely structured and field-based approaches.

Someone raised the question, what is the difference between information and knowledge, and what is the difference between information management and knowledge management?  I answered by introducing the data-to-wisdom hierarchy (summarized by Bellinger, Castro and Mills here). However, I think what we refer to as PKM is a mixture of information and knowledge management, characterized by the need to simplify our systems by using containers that can hold both, and by the need to transform information into new knowledge.  I don’t want to enter into definitional discussions here.  I also think that  PIM brings to mind contact managers and similar software, which is far more limited than the kinds of tools that interest me.  Hence, for convenience, I have always used the term personal knowledge management, and hope that it  is fairly self explanatory.

I’d be interested in hearing from others whether you’ve found differences in PKM practices or needs across disciplines.  And of course – any reactions to the information/knowledge management terms.