Lately, I’ve been informally polling friends and colleagues about the ways that they are organizing their research for projects, because I find myself in a bit of a quandary. Once upon a time, when I was in graduate school, research looked very different. I’d physically transport myself to the library, do an MLA search, print out the results, go to the online library catalog, find the location of the journals—all primarily on the 11th floor, go up in the elevator, pull the journals off the shelf, go back downstairs in the elevator, photocopy journal articles, deposit the journals on the reshelving cart, take my photocopies back upstairs in the elevator, and, finally, sit in my carrel on the 6th floor and read them. Once read and marked, the articles would (if I were on my toes) go into files designated for different projects, dissertation chapters, etc. Good times. Nothing like standing over a hot Xerox machine in the Touchdown Jesus library to make you feel like a real scholar. Lest you think this was in the dark ages of postmodernity, let me simply state that I was doing that as late as the year 2000—a mere seven years ago!
Now, of course, I physically visit the library only to put DVD’s on reserve for my classes. Thanks to the wonders of Adobe, 9 out of 10 articles come to me via Interlibrary Loan as pdf files (this function is, for me, in the running for top ten best technological advancements in the last decade). This is over and above what’s widely available on the web. All of a sudden, the tactile–if bulky–system of manila file folders seems both obsolete and insufficient. Pdfs are searchable and editable—if I print them out, they lose this functionality. And what’s the point of printing websites? Add to this the the fact that the content of my research is now more complicated (it was one thing when I was working on a novel or a film—but now I’m tracking cross-media responses to these), and you get one big mess. By the end of last year, I had a series of bookmarks, sets of manila files, desktop files, and was anxiously doing google searches every few days to make sure that I hadn’t missed or misplaced something. What I wanted/desperately needed, then, was a system that would let me store all kinds of different media in a single place. And wouldn’t it be nice if that were a searchable database too? Better yet, perhaps a system that would be shareable, so that I could use it for a few collaborative projects I’m working on? And if it would bring me coffee and tell me that I’m smart?
Except for that last wish-dream of the perfect research system (I suppose you can’t have everything), I think I’m finally on to something. On Friday, I started moving everything into a PBwiki site. I’ve used a wikispaces site with a few previous classes, but PBWiki has some additional functionality that are currently rocking my world. I can attach files to pages, embed images and video, tag, etc. Not to mention you can make it purdy by editing the CSS (let’s not forget the aesthetics of research, shall we?). We’ll see if this is the magical organizational answer to my research problems, but for now, it’s looking good. The true test, I suppose, is whether it makes me more productive. Stay tuned for future reports on that score.
In the meantime, here’s the video that I saw over the summer, and the one I remembered, when I thought of the wiki as personal research tool: