Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Reading Memory and Writing

Greetings reader!  Punctuate the title of this post as you like.  It could be:  Reading:  memory and writing.  Reading, Memory, and Writing.  Or just as it is reading memory and writing.  All three words and concepts go round round with each other.

How do we remember not only what we read, but where we read it?  I mention writing because, as some recent articles have pointed out, the act of handwriting has an impact on knowledge and retention. There is an expectation, I think, that having access to more knowledge implies the facility to manage the information it contains, especially digitized information.

But here's what I want to focus on today:  How do you remember what you have read?  Let's talk about personal reading and academic/professional reading.  This post is for Robin, my fantastic SLIS intern from SJSU in Spring 2014 who is well on her way in librarianship.  We had talked about ways to manage the sheer number of texts you need to recall quickly as a librarian, especially with Readers' Advisory, a new skill she was taking on.  We decided to check in with each other in October for a comparison of how our approaches and tactics over the next six months have worked.

In personal reading, some authors make it very easy for you.  I expect to long remember certain phrases or descriptions that float to mind, bringing the author and title information forward as quickly as a catalog entry.  For example, in Margaret Atwood's Lady Oracle, when the protagonist writes of stale biscuits, "they were hard as plaster and tasted of shelf."  That is absolutely one of my favorite lines in literature, it so precisely describes the taste of old cracker that you eat because it is one of the few remaining items in the pantry.

The newest author memory post came my way last night.  I am devouring Sandra Cisneros' Caramelo, which had been on my To Read list for ages, but got bumped to first place when I got a really nice copy at Green Apple Books, hardback.  Here's it is:

Is that not the best description of doubt you have ever read??  Say it aloud if you want to, "Doubt begins like a thin crack in a porcelain plate."  We have all seen that hairline fracture, some of us have also felt it.

But what about when you are trying to remember more prosaic prose, like something about, ahem (sorry, profession) "the role of information literacy competency assessment in a base line environment juxtaposed with Common Core Outcomes in a mixed media environment."  I mean, who is going to know what that even says, much less who is responsible?

For some reason, and maybe it is the years of handling the print objects, and handwriting then typing citations, elements of a citation are like handles for my brain.  I can envision the article title inside the journal;  I can recall an author's point when I take the time to write out a notecard with the author's name and the page number in the upper right of the index card.   But I have to process it somehow--with the advent on online books and journals, I get annoyed very quickly when e-book vendors make it time consuming or simply impossible to easily copy and paste a quote.  E-journals are slightly better, but copy and pasting from a pdf sometimes creates a weird alphabet soup.  So...what?  Print everything out?

For reference sources I know well, it is because I either took time to intentionally learn about them, either through reading reviews or looking carefully at the item itself, or because I used them over and over again.  I also have a little trick when I'm learning a new reference source--I'll look up the same topic in three or four similar subject sources to quickly figure out which one gives the "best" entry if I needed a lot or a little information, which one has the best bibliographies, which one is illustrated...

But as I now face down the long barrel of some long-term projects I'd like to bring to fruition, I can also see where I have turned the process of research into a bit of a security blanket...oh look, another book on my topic, let's read and make more notes!  I'd like to balance that bad habit with a more efficient system.  To be sure, I have had my wild fling with RefWorks, and I'm still indebted to it for storing as of this writing 1,193 references, probably about 450 of which I really need to actively work with for the aforementioned projects.

I'm running together memory and process because for me they are intertwined.  I'm not going to remember a book or a journal article if I don't engage with it in a written process, and for the moment, that is a mish-mash of print and electronic interaction (please don't talk to me about Google Drive just now thank you.)  But I have also ordered some delicious paper from Levenger to lure myself into writing on it.

So gentle reader:  what works for you?  Something electronic, like LibraryThing or RefWorks?  Are you still running ProCite off a generator in the basement?  Or do you have artfully arranged notebooks filled with your exquisite script?  Photos (rated for all audiences) or descriptions of your process welcome.

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