Off the Top of My Head

Joel Alleyne’s December column: The Need to Forget – Less Is More has been on my mind since reading it, though perhaps this incongruous statement should be “in” my mind. Unlike the individual described in the column, my challenge is more often remembering rather than forgetting.

Specific factors in my organization require me to act as the facilitator of institutional memory:

  • I have been with my firm for 10 years and part of our technology committee for the entire time
  • The combined longevity of our entire 5 person IT team is about 13 years
  • I monitor RSS feeds for others as part of our library service
  • I monitor current legislation for my firms lawyers and clients
  • My team catalogues and retains our firm research work product

The required librarianship skills of active listening, the ability to remember what information is available where within a collection and out in the world, and organizing information in many forms along with the recognition that we live in a time of information overload makes for a memory challenge.

Although memory skills can be sharpened, sometimes with professional assistance, my non-empirical observation is that individuals either have an excellent capacity for remembering details, or they don’t. For an interesting read on this, check out Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink. If you happen to be in Edmonton, Alberta on Wednesday, January 28, 2009 at noon, the University of Alberta School of Library and Information Studies will be hosting a research colloquium titled “Thinking about Thinking: Human Cognition and Its Pervasiveness in LIS” with Professor John M. Budd. I anticipate this session will fuel my perception that librarians are generally pretty good at remembering.

I am positive I am not alone in reading, monitoring or listening directly for the interest of others. Libraries often perform off the cuff information filtering functions. Try searching ‘for your interest’ in your email Sent folder. My methods of having Outlook recurring tasks and appointments, paper to do lists, a desktop shortcut to my RSS reader, Post-It notes on my monitor, a big old family calendar on the fridge, a Blackberry on my belt, the occasional phone call to my home voicemail, a prioritized pile of files to the left of my keyboard, and a desktop folder of “to be read” are not unique.

I love remembering things. It is such a great feeling when you know the answer to a recycled question. Unfortunately, there are also those moments when you just know you saw/read/heard something about something that someone needs to know right away. Thank heavens for the ability to pick the collective brain with tools like Twitter and the CALL-L list service.

What are your best memory practices? How do you remember to perform the critical and time sensitive tasks that are required of you? What is your method for knowing who in your organization would be interested in the case comment you just read from

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