Using What I Have at Hand

I had dinner and coffee with Dave Humphrey last Thursday night. Our conversation was productive of several things that I have not yet found the time to discuss in this space, and, unfortunately, I will probably not have the time to discuss them until after I return from vacation this coming week. However, one of the things we covered did motivate me to accomplish something this week.

I have been for several weeks wrestling with exactly how to manage my internet research, and I have written about this process in the past. Dave and I were thinking about this particular problem last Thursday, and Dave encouraged me to begin by using and abusing what I already have at hand. It occurred to me suddenly that I might be able to use my LibraryThing catalogue to perform at least some of the media management functions that I need. LibraryThing is primarily intended to catalogue books, of course, not online media, but I have already been abusing this intention somewhat by including my collection of video and music in my catalogue as well, though this has not always been well received by some of the site’s other users. I decided to experiment a little to see exactly what LibraryThing could or could not do for me. The results, while certainly not ideal, are certainly functional.

I have made only eight entries so far, and I have tagged them all, at least temporarily, as Online materials, so that I can easily access them as a group. The deficiencies of the program for my purpose, as I have discovered them so far, are as follows, in no particular order:

1) The Add Book form does not automatically support links, so the links have to be manually html tagged.

2) The Comments section of the Add Book form, though the best place for including marginalia, cannot really support lengthy commentary without expanding entries vertically to unwieldy sizes in the list view.

3) The Publication section of the Add Book form, though the best place for including links, cannot really support lengthy url’s without expanding entries horizontally to unwieldy sizes in the list view.

4) There is no way to differentiate between different sorts of tags to describe an entry’s medium (online, video, avi), to list some of its keywords (media, spectacle, visuality), or to assign it a group (course ID, research projects, interest groups). All of these things must be accomplished with the same set of tags.

There are, however, some benefits of the program:

1) It automatically integrates the online materials that I am using with my offline materials so that I can more easily group and connect these things to each other.

2) The tagging system is simple and robust enough that I can use it to do accommodate everything I need, even if i cannot make higher order groups of these tags.

3) The site supports groups of users, which will enable some of the resource sharing that I would like, though this would necessitate others using the program for the same purposes.

4) The site supports easy export of data, so that I can port the information elsewhere if I discover a better alternative.

For the time being, therefore, I intend to use LibraryThing to manage my media, but I intend to do so in conjunction with the other things that I have at hand online, my courseware site and this blog, which are much more useful for things like facilitating discussion and for publishing than LibraryThing can be. I am taking this approach, not because it is ideal, but because I am beginning to see the value in using the tools that I already have if they will do. Dave keeps telling me that the perfect is the enemy of the good, and I think that the online tools I have already may be good enough to serve until I can find a solution that will be more perfect.

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