Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Notebooks as information sources for academic libraries?

This week I stumbled upon a link to an academic conference showcasing: scholarship on note taking and note writing entitled Duly Noted: The Past, Present and Future of Note-Taking. I appreciated reading the blurb for the conference as it did provide a case that studying note taking and writing notes are important as writing does play a role in oral processes and oral communication in our modern or post modern world.

According to the blurb posted by Stockman (2012), note taking scholarship involves the study of the activity of "jotting down of things people say". To study this, researchers analyze the artifacts or objects of  note books or written notes.This area is perhaps difficult to study, as notes are meant to be ephemeral, and those surviving do so because their disposal was neglected by their creators and eventually found their way into libraries and other institutions that took steps to careful preserve them.

Another area of study in note taking scholarship is the annotation of books. This involves the study of the notes that people make in published books. Based on the blurb, it seems that one of the data source which one could use to observe note taking is academia, especially college students, who both take notes based on lectures as well as may annotate their text books. Stockman (2012) does point out that this practice is not only a feature of modern times, but indicate that note taking has been a practice seemingly as old as the history of writing.  Torah and Talmud scholars have engaged in note taking practice and textual commentary, as well as ancient scholars noted stuff on clay tablets and parchment.

Why should we care?

It is easy to note that not all persons write notes that are legible and that not all notes are useful. However, libraries have always had the knack for sorting through the universe of information and selecting very useful resources and information that are relevant to meeting the information needs of their present and even future communities.

Notes are in fact ephemeral information sources, usually done for the purpose of reminding or preserving something for memory. It is clear that today, people engage in digital note taking and that even some blogs and Twitter may function as that for some persons like myself. I note stuff to retrieve it later for future use when it becomes relevant to do so. However, even noting stuff in a public media reveals that a person believes that his or her personal notes can have some public value, beyond private use, study and purposes. This brings me to the issue of libraries and how they should view or treat notes and note books and even annotated textbooks.

Position 1: Libraries should collect notes and notebooks. Especially university libraries. And especially student notes from a course. And even notes from faculty. 

This is based on the assumption that students who have completed a course would be interested in sharing their notes or donating their notebooks to some repository to help other students. I can remember from my own university days, that students voluntarily passed on their notebooks and course materials to other students pursuing the course that they already completed.

Another assumption I have made is that university students would seek out course material from previous years and want to access such material to get a sense of what a course is like and what may be covered. Again there is no guarantee that the notes taken from a previous year will be covered in the present, but it may still be useful to the students.

Most importantly, faculty would be the greatest beneficiaries of such note taking preservation strategies, as faculty would be able to view what students noted and compare with their own notes. In addition, new and old faculty could both benefit, by reviewing what was covered in a previous course.

Position 2: Libraries should have at least one copy of an undergraduate textbook to be dubbed the annotated copy.
While libraries prefer users not to annotate their resources, they should in my opinion reserve and permit at least one resource (out of mutliple copies) to be annotated by students with pen or pencil. The rationale for this is kind of weird, born both out of personal experience and experience with the current Web 2.0 trends.

In a weird way, I believe that students like to see what others who have read the book before have to say about it and especially specific points. I myself enjoy looking at what others thought about an idea expressed by the author. I have read books annotated by others that have commented on which points expressed by the author was weak or strong. In addition I have read  a book where a student annotated unfamiliar words to a more familiar words so that one would not have to reach for the dictionary to look them up. As such, the practice I believe is a useful one for students who read the book after, depending on quality of the annotation.

In addition, Biblical scholars also annotate and intersperse the Bible with commentaries and notes. In the online world, this practice is resurrected, with many persons commenting on books read and other media and publishing those comments for other to see. It is therefore in my opinion, human and natural for persons to annotate and comment on ideas in books, and have an interest in what others found interesting, important or useful in a book. This permits conversation.

However, the problems with this is that, like the online world of practical jokers (or trolls) and the offline world of bathroom graffiti artists, we will have some useless and poor quality annotations. Quality control would be an issue, but I do not think that this has to be a limitation that prevents libraries from even experimenting with this practice.


Stockman, Sebastian.  (2012, November 9). Duly noted: The past, present, and future of note-taking.  The Altantic Retrieved from: http://m.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/11/duly-noted-the-past-present-and-future-of-note-taking/264533/

1 comment:

  1. A library's crowd-sourced annotated academic textbook is perhaps a better phrase.