Congratulations on the new library, because it isn’t just a library. It is a space ship that will take you to the farthest reaches of the Universe, a time machine that will take you to the far past and the far future, a teacher that knows more than any human being, a friend that will amuse you and console you—and most of all, a gateway, to a better and happier and more useful life.
This tiny little post, which is written around Asimov’s short note quoted above, launched me in off in multiple directions. A library. Asimov. A type–written note. Even Asimov still made typing mistakes—how fast must he have been able to type after all those years of writing? What type writer did he use? Every now and then I feel like getting a type writer—but I spin off into looking at typefaces, and what the heck would I actually do with a type writer? OMG no I’m not going to start type writing the slips in the slipbox. (Because that’d be insane, and because hand writing the slips is part of the point since it reinforces learning. I don’t think typing would do that.) And I keep thinking I never got around to building the library/reading space that as a kid I’d always dreamed of. So many ideas. So little time.
What follows is an attempt to consider some of the aspects and implications of techno-optimism. It is an attitude that has become somewhat taken for granted, which is precisely why it is important to consider what it is and how it functions.
We live in the age of philosophy, science, and intellect. Huge libraries are open for everyone. Everywhere we have schools, colleges, and universities which give us the wisdom of the people from many previous millennia. And what then? Have we become wiser for all this? Do we better understand our life, or the meaning of our existence? Do we know what is good for our life?
Sometimes I have a “thread of interest” that I simply know I will never have the time to do anything with. Instead of simply ̄\_(ツ)_/ ̄ing and letting it go, I’m sharing this here so I can feel like I did something with it.
…but the links on that page itself are broken. More searching did lead me to find at least some issues in U Sask.’s online store. But they are not cheap. (If they were single-dollars-each, I might just buy them all.)
Does anyone within the sound of my voice have any issues? Anyone have any commentary about the periodical at large? Does anyone’s closest library have any of them? Is anyone near the University of Saskatchewan? …have a contact there? …or any in-real-life means of getting more information?
And also, why aren’t the contents of these online? They seem to be culturally significant.
If you think of your mind as a library, three things should concern you. […] There is no point having a repository of knowledge in your mind if you can’t find and apply its contents (see multiplicative systems).
Don’t panic it’s not simply a catalog of library metaphors. There are great points about being intentional about what you choose to put into your brain, what your brain is good at doing, the utility and danger—which I humorously typo’d as “dander”—of filters, and more. I’m going to go in a different direction here however: Rather than trying to figure out how to assess the library of my mind, I’ve been trying to more often let people see what it’s doing. As I’ve said many times, this blog itself is a form of me working “with the garage door up.” …and I regularly reread these blog posts myself to make sure the thoughts still look reasonable after some time sitting on the digital shelf.
As to methods, there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.
~ Harrington Emerson
This is strikingly accurate for all the domains I’ve tried so far. I believe it’s useful to begin by trying some method-work; To explore conversation as a mastery practice, it would be insurmountably boring to sit in my research library reading about conversation. But trying a few different experiments provides invaluable experience. Some things are reproducible, and some things aren’t. Why is that? Some things work as I expected, and some things don’t. Why is that? Some things aren’t connected the way I’d expected, (imagine if the light switches in your house worked lights in other rooms, instead of the one you expected.) Why is that?
Niels Bohr said something similar about Painful experience, and I agree. The experiences serve as guides on either side of the roadway. In the beginning, everything is unknown and the road is seemingly boundless. Some exploration however soon finds a guide limiting one side. Farther exploration moves along the road and perhaps finds the other side’s guide. Progress continues in a serpentine fashion along the road. As principles are learned, the road becomes clearer. Armed with the curiosity and inspiration born of experimentation, progress along the road accelerates as the guides become more clear.
In the end—or the end of the beginning?—things again seem simple. One might even say they seem principled.
Today I thought I’d share a thorough explanation of what I do “to” a book these days. This process—which to be honest I don’t follow for every book I read—is the result of combining a few different ideas:
I love the physicality of books. The typography, the paper, writing in them, desultory bookmarks, (I add my own ribbon bookmarks,) and numerous sticky-notes poking out the side.
I love the peaceful, inertness of books. They literally sit there and do nothing. There are no alerts, and no interaction, (from anyone beyond the author’s original magic spell.)
I’ve always wanted to retain more of the knowledge from a book once I’ve read it.
I’ve wanted to be free of my self-imposed rule of reading every page.
I’ve always wanted a set of crib notes, summary, or something that I could lay hand on after reading a book.
Fortunately, books arrive slowly. It took practice, but I learned to do all of the following in a minute or two.
If it’s a new book, I take a few moments to prepare the spine. (Please tell me you know how to do that.) I affix a small, white, circular label on the spine, and I slap a sticky-note on the first face opposite the cover.
I skip over to librarything.com and find the book in “Your Books”—my books, that is. Most arriving books are coming in after already being in my “wishlist” collection; They get moved to the “library” collection. Otherwise they get searched for and added to my collection. Books get tagged as “physical,” (as opposed to those tagged “PDF,” “iBooks”, or “Kindle,” because, yeup, I track those too.) I see what MDS number Library Thing says the librarians of the world have chosen.
On the sticky-note, I write “LT”, (for “this book is entered into Library Thing,) and the MDS number. I write the main, three-digit part of the MDS number on the label on the spine.
Finally, I skip over to bookmooch.com and remove it from my Wishlist over there to ensure I don’t forget about it. (Lest I accidentally “spend” my Book Mooch points requesting a book I now have.) If this is a book that someone sent me because of Book Mooch, I hit the “Received!” button instead.
This book is now “ours.” And some amazing things are now possible just by having spent a couple minutes on each book as it arrives. (Please ignore the entire week I spent bootstrapping ~500 books when I started doing all this. :)
Physical bookstores are fun again! What books are on my wishlist? (500+ at the moment) …okay, what wishlist books are tagged, “priority”? (about 250 — yes I have a problem.) Picking up a book… “this looks interesting…” Do I already have it in the house, maybe now is the time to buy it? Did I once have it, and it’s no longer in our collection, (part of my collections in Library Thing is “had but gone now”)?
Long-term storage of books doesn’t mean they are lost. A big portion of the books in our house are here because we want to keep them. They sit for years untouched. Those are shelved by MDS number. Ask me for a book, and I can walk directly to it; It’s either laying about somewhere and top of mind, or it’s shelved where it can be found immediately.
This is morbid, but if the house burned down I could decide what books to replace.
Books are for reading
Well, technically, one can also build a thing called an anti-library. But eventually, hopefully, or at least this is what I keep telling myself: I start reading the book.
I do tend to read the entire book. But generally I read the table of contents first to see what I’m getting into. If I think the book is going to be a really deep read—something I want to read more than once, refer to, and really ingest—I probably read the Afterword first. The Afterword was written dead-last, after the book was done and the author is a different person at that point. Then maybe the Foreword, or some books have a Summary, or a Preface, whatever.
I’ve no qualms about skipping parts. For example, in books like Trust Yourself by M Wilding I skipped all the anecdotes and skipped all the workbook/exercises stuff. I ended up reading only about one-third of all of the pages. (Still, a good book by the way.)
As I’m reading, if anything quotable jumps out, I’ll capture that on the spot. This leads to me making some marks, allocating a slipbox slip address, and I’ll leave a small post-it sticking out the side. I’ve never met a book worth reading that didn’t have at least one quotable bit awaiting me within.
As soon as the first slip gets created from the book, that slip needs to refer to the book. That means the book itself needs to be in the slipbox. Apparently, I always wanted to be a librarian.
And now I can leave a “(2tu1)” reference on the quote’s slip.
So that’s a bit of detour, but it really only takes me about a minute. You’ll notice—first photo at top—that the sticky-note for this example book has a slipbox reference, “(2tu1)”—the parens mean “this is a reference”. I didn’t put that on the sticky-note when the book arrived. That was added when I put the book into the slipbox by creating slip “2tu1”.
But mostly, I’m just reading the book.
Identify summarizing bits
One day, I’m finished reading.
I find that even if it took me months to finish, the book’s contents remain pretty fresh in my mind. I flip through the book cover-to-cover, just skimming and noticing what I recall from reading. When I see a good, representative bit, I simply stick in a blank card at those spots. This lets me gauge how many slips my “summary” will be; Two is too few, and 20 might be too many.
Each spot has some key point that I want to include in my summary. I don’t write anything at this point. The goal is just to stick the cards into all the places that I want to include in my summary.
(I once tried using a printed template whose layout facilitated taking brief notes and had pre-printed page numbers. Folded, it doubled as a bookmark so I could build some notes as I read. When an idea leapt out, I’d find the page number on the sheet and jot a note. It was a neat idea, but didn’t work out for me.)
Finally, I go through all the spots I’ve identified and I do a little underlining. I jot the basics of the idea on a slip and address it. So for this example book, whose slip is addressed “2tu1”, this first of the summary slips goes “below” as “2tu1a.” Next summary slip would be, “2tu1b”, “2tu1c” etc.
I have playlists for this exact thing. Hundreds of individual songs selected and shuffled, for very specific purposes.
Sometimes I go “hunting” to find new tracks for these lists; My Mac says my music library has 9,121 items, 26.5 days, 77.96 GB, and I have a “smart” playlist which grabs 250 least-recently played. It avoids some genres (like “Spoken Word” so it doesn’t pick out French lessons, etc) and it avoids any track I’ve one-starred (my way of saying omg no)… It’s basically an endless series of, “I forgot about that!” I often flip over to the original album, start from the front, and sometimes I add a track to one of my play lists.
What? Why? …best of both worlds. I have playlists that do what I need—hide the world, hide everything. And I’m continuously startled with delight by my tiny music collection.
Today, a deep dive into how slips get added to the Slipbox. I’ve been working on the Slipbox the last few days—I cannot wait to look back on these posts and the Slipbox in another decade. :) But mostly it’s been meta work: Deciding on format for the slips, and beginning to sketch out the conceptual superstructure of the Slipbox, … tedious and boring and the sort of process and organization work which I flippin’ love. *ahem* What follows here is a story, with photos. I’m going to go through adding three new slips to the Slipbox.
I was reading this book (image below) and I came to the section in the lower right. I thought that was interesting. The underlined bit in particular is a really great sentence about Stoicism. (I’ll get to the actual sentence in a moment.)
You might be wondering how I manage to make books lie open so neatly. There’s a clever hack (image below) for that. See also, Book holder for paperbacks. I’ve graduated from using a pencil, as I describe in the Life Hack linked, to using these gorgeous steel rods I found. Furthermore, because I’m insane, I used heat-shrink tubing in a lovely shade of blue to cover the ends so they don’t mark up tables and such.
Back to that sentence which caught my eye as I was reading.
I grabbed a blank 3×5 card—what I’m using for the “slips” in my Slipbox—and I copied the bit I want from the book. (image below) I did not write that “5a1” at the top initially; After I did a lot more of what I describe in this post, it occurred to me to write this post, and I didn’t feel like rewriting this slip to take a photo without the “5a1”.
This slip has the bit I wanted to capture, then the page number, and the “(2a1)” is a slip reference; it’s the address of this particular book’s slip in the Slipbox. These things don’t have to be in any particular layout. They are all obvious in the context. What page number could I possibly mean, other than page 33 in the book itself? What could possibly be a (2a1) in the Slipbox—a book, but I could also just go look at (2a1).
All our books have a note in the front (image below) which say “LT” and which has the major Dewey Decimal System number. I’ll let it settle in, the level of commitment it takes to have done this for every book in the house. But it’s easy to maintain, just do it for each new book as they arrive. The “LT” is a reference to Library Thing, which is a magical web site that tracks library contents. In LT I know every book I’ve ever owned, which are currently in the house, I have a wishlist, etc..—going to a bookstore is magical when armed with that knowledge.
I may as well mention that the Dewey number is on the spine too. (image below) Yes, on every book. Yes, the books in the house are also shelved by Dewey Decimal. I learned a lot about what librarians actually do when I tried to find the Dewey Decimal number for a book—hint, it’s an art, not a science.
So it’s easy to figure out that the book I’m quoting from on this new slip is in the Slipbox at (2a1) because it’s on the postit in the book. I jot that on the slip, “this is where I got this from: Page 33 from the book at slip 2a1.”
Ok, I’ve capture that little quote. Where do I put this new slip in the Slipbox? Well, I think it’s a great idea about Stoicism, and Stoicism is in the Slipbox already. Below is a photo of the slip whose address is (5)—that’s the “5” at the top left. This is an “early days” slip so it has a silly-short address. This slip is just a list of topics I have under “Philosophy,” today just the “a” section for Stoicism. There is a boring “5a” too (not shown.) This seems silly, until I get to “g” under Philosophy, and that slip is 200 slips farther along in the box. Then I’ll be flipping through looking for that “silly” (5g) slip.
So (5a) already exists, and it is the home of “Stoicism” in my Slipbox. So where do I put my newest slip with this little quote from book (2a1)? I flip to (5a) and realize there’s nothing after it. So this new slip becomes (5a1). I wrote that (5a1) on there dead-last. And then I tossed it into the Slipbox behind (5a).
I did all that stuff to make that new (5a1) slip, and then I went back to reading the book. A few pages later I find this…
I scribble on the margin (above) since this is interesting. There’s a tiny “16” there. I look at this book’s notes—the book I’m reading in the photo—and it’s a reference to a book I actually have. (There’s also a tiny “17,” but it’s not a book I have.) I grab the referenced book and find the referenced page, starts lower-left (image below)… (I’d love to say the Dewey shelving was handy, but I am also reading this book! So it was sitting close at hand already.)
I had started reading this book before I had a Slipbox. When I looked at it today though, I realized that I’d have captured this exact bit… if I’d had a Slipbox.
Not shown: I made a (2a2) in for this book. Looks much like the (2a1) image above. I added (2a2) to the note in the front of the book.
Then I made a new slip (image below) for this bit about Stoicism… (I also added “pg 20” after taking this photo.) The note in the front of the book says “LT 171 (2a2)”—but I just made (2a2) anyway.
The cool part about this is the slip can lay around if I feel like having it close by. It’s a thought, and I know where I got the thought. When (if!) I want to put it into the Slipbox…
I flip to (5a) for Stoicism… there’s a (5a1) already, so this slip becomes (5a2). I add “5a2” to the top of the slip, I date the slip (the dates are “when it was added” to the Slipbox, not “when I wrote it”,) and toss it in the Slipbox.
A Guide to the Good Life by WB Irvine is the first book, way above. That’s the one I was reading this morning that started all of this. The next image is (2a1), the slip I created for this book.
Don’t panic. I’m not adding a slip for every book. This isn’t a card catalog for the entire library. This slip got added to create a home for the next card…
I have a feeling that this book is going to be referred to often. (Often enough to warrant adding it to the Slipbox.) Now, as I find (2a1)—aka references in the Slipbox to this book—when I flip to (2a1), I immediately see (2a1a) which tells me what the book is about. Or least what Irvine hopes the book is about. :)
The Last Lecture is a summary of all Pausch had learned and all he wanted to pass along to his children. The lecture, entitled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” wasn’t about dying rather just the opposite. It was about dreams, moments and overcoming obstacles because “time is all you have…and you may find one day that you have less than you think.”