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Library shortcuts

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Matt Price e-mailed me about this wonderful piece of wizardry he added to YubNub (which is kinda like a command line for the Web). He set up the tpl command, which searches the Toronto Public Library. This prompted me to finally make YubNub the default handler for my Mozilla Firefox address bar, which you can also do by going to about:config and setting or creating the keyword.URL option to http://yubnub.org/parser/parse?command=

This is good stuff, and one of the many reasons why blogging saves me time and lets me hear about all sorts of interesting things. =) Matt, thanks for sharing!

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Virtual assistance process: Manage Toronto Public Library books

  1. Visit http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca and click on Your Account. Sign in with the provided library card number and PIN.
  2. Click on Your Account, and then click on Checkouts. You will see a list of checked-out books sorted by due date.
  3. Click on the checkbox beside all items due by the following Saturday, and then click on Renew Selected Items.
  4. You should see a list of items that were renewed and items that failed to be renewed (maximum number of renewals, other users have placed holds). Copy the titles of the items that were not renewed into an e-mail under the heading “TO RETURN“, one title and date per line. Keep this list sorted by due date.
  5. Click on Holds. If there are any items under the heading Ready for Pickup, copy the titles and expiry dates to the e-mail under the heading “TO PICK UP”, one title and date per line. Keep this list sorted by due date.
  6. Click on Sign Out.
  7. Repeat steps for any other library cards indicated, summarizing the books to return and pick up under the same headings you’ve created.
  8. If there are books to return, log on to Toodledo.com. Click on Add Task in the upper left corner. Set the subject to “Return library books”, the due date to today, the context to Errands, and the note to include all the text (return and pick-up) from the e-mail. Add the task.
  9. Send me the e-mail with the title Toronto Public Library Report.
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New library reminder script

Gabriel Mansour reminded me to update my old library script. =) Here’s the new one: library-reminder.pl. Serious geekery may be needed to make use of this script.

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Sketchnotes: Sal Sloan of Fetching! at the Toronto Public Library: Small Business Networking Event

fetching-small

(Click on the image to see the larger version)

The Toronto Public Library hosts monthly networking events for people who are interested in starting a small business. Most people have not yet started a business. It’s a good opportunity to ask questions and learn from someone who has figured some things out.

Sal Sloan came up with the business idea for Fetching! when she got a dog. She had signed up for a fitness bootcamp, and the combination of exercising herself and walking her dog wore her out. Why not combine the two activities – help people exercise with their dogs? With a $10,000 loan from her parents, Sal started Fetching! by focusing on exercise for people and obedience training for dogs. With early success, Sal broadened her scope to focusing on helping people have active fun with their pets. She has been doing the business for two and a half years, and continues to work part-time on another job. This helps her grow the business organically by avoiding financial pressures.

One of the lessons I took away from the conversation was the power of delegating work to other people. Sal knew that other personal trainers could run sessions much better than she could, so she hired good people whom she could trust to represent her company. She’s looking for someone who can help her with the business side so that she can grow more, too. After I bank some money from this consulting engagement, I might start my delegation experiments again.

The session was an interesting contrast to last month’s meetup with Kristina Chau of notyouraverageparty, who had been in business for three years and who was struggling to scale up beyond herself. Sal has clearly put work into figuring out how to scale up, and it’s great to see how it paid off.

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Quantified Awesome: Analyzing my non-fiction reading, and why I don’t mind paying taxes

Update Aug 22 2013: See presentation at the end of this post.

imageI built library-book tracking into Quantified Awesome in October 2011, hard-coding the patterns used by the Toronto Public Library system. I regularly hit the 50-book checkout limit and sometimes have to check items out on my husband’s account, so it really helps to have a system that can tell me what’s due and when on all the library cards that we have.

Crunching the numbers

In the 668 days (or 95.5 weeks) between October 1, 2011 and the time I exported my data for number-crunching, we checked out 1,252 items, or an average of 13 items a week. That included 250 movies and 44 other videos (TV series, documentaries, and so on). I’m boggled to find out that I checked out only 8 science fiction books. There were 152 other fiction books, including graphic novels and manga.

… 250 movies borrowed from the library results in saving of $150+ a month assuming we snag DVDs at $15. Not that we would watch 2.6 movies a week if we had to pay for them. In November 2011, I tracked the retail prices and page count of the books I read: $1,075 and 10,671 pages in a month, boggle. I don’t read all of those pages thoroughly, mind you; I tend to skim books looking for just what I need. Still, there’s no denying that the Toronto Public Library saves me a heck of a lot of book and entertainment money.

I figured I’d probably want to take a look at my reading list at some point, so I had programmed the system to record titles and Dewey Decimal System classifications as well. Fiction books and feature movies tend to have generic codes, but nonfiction books show me interesting patterns in my reading habits.

Here are my top categories:

Dewey Decimal Classification Number of items
650 – Management & auxiliary services 328
330 – Economics 82
150 – Psychology 59
740 – Drawing & decorative arts 45
800 – Literature, rhetoric & criticism 38
000 – Computer science, knowledge & systems 33
640 – Home economics & family living 30
610 – Medical sciences; Medicine 22
300 – Social sciences, sociology & anthropology 18
340 – Law 14

Here are my top sub categories:

Dewey Decimal Classification Number of items
658 – General management 213
650 – Management & auxiliary services 92
332 – Financial economics 45
808 – Rhetoric & collections of literature 37
741 – Drawing & drawings 28
158 – Applied psychology 24
153 – Mental processes and intelligence 22
641 – Food & drink 19
005 – Computer programming, programs & data 18
613 – Personal health & safety 15

Here they are, broken down by Dewey decimal group:

Dewey Decimal Classification Number of items
650 – Management & auxiliary services 328
658 – General management 213
650 – Management & auxiliary services 92
657 – Accounting 9
659 – Advertising & public relations 5
651 – Office services 4
652 – Processes of written communication 3
653 – Shorthand 2
330 – Economics 82
332 – Financial economics 45
338 – Production 15
331 – Labor economics 10
330 – Economics 9
339 – Macroeconomics & related topics 2
333 – Land economics 1
150 – Psychology 59
158 – Applied psychology 24
153 – Mental processes and intelligence 22
155 – Differential and developmental psychology 11
152 – Perception, movement, emotions, and drives 1
150 – Psychology 1
740 – Drawing & decorative arts 45
741 – Drawing & drawings 28
743 – Drawing & drawings by subject 10
745 – Decorative arts 7
800 – Literature, rhetoric & criticism 38
808 – Rhetoric & collections of literature 37
809 – Literary history & criticism 1
000 – Computer science, knowledge & systems 33
005 – Computer programming, programs & data 18
006 – Special computer methods 12
001 – Knowledge 2
003 – Systems 1
640 – Home economics & family living 30
641 – Food & drink 19
646 – Sewing, clothing, personal living 5
640 – Home economics & family living 3
647 – Management of public households 1
644 – Household utilities 1
643 – Housing & household equipment 1
610 – Medical sciences; Medicine 22
613 – Personal health & safety 15
616 – Diseases 4
612 – Human physiology 3
300 – Social sciences, sociology & anthropology 18
306 – Culture & institutions 7
303 – Social processes 4
305 – Social groups 3
302 – Social interaction 3
304 – Factors affecting social behavior 1
340 – Law 14
346 – Private law 8
343 – Military, tax, trade, industrial law 4
349 – Law of specific jurisdictions & areas 2
490 – Other languages 13
495 – Languages of East & Southeast Asia 13
690 – Buildings 12
690 – Buildings 8
695 – Roof covering 2
696 – Utilities 1
692 – Auxiliary construction practices 1
170 – Ethics (Moral philosophy) 9
170 – Ethics (Moral philosophy) 5
174 – Occupational ethics 2
171 – Ethical systems 2
370 – Education 6
371 – School management; special education; alternative education 5
372 – Elementary education 1
720 – Architecture 5
729 – Design & decoration 2
728 – Residential & related buildings 2
720 – Architecture 1
810 – American literature in English 5
813 – Fiction 2
818 – Miscellaneous writings 1
819 – Puzzle activities 1
814 – Essays 1
680 – Manufacture for specific uses 4
684 – Furnishings & home workshops 2
688 – Other final products & packaging 1
686 – Printing & related activities 1
770 – Photography & photographs 4
775 – Digital photography 2
779 – Photographs 1
778 – Fields & kinds of photography 1
470 – Italic languages; Latin 4
478 – Classical Latin usage 4
910 – Geography & travel 4
915 – Asia 4
420 – English & Old English 3
422 – English etymology 2
428 – Standard English usage 1
510 – Mathematics 3
519 – Probabilities & applied mathematics 3
400 – Language 3
401 – Philosophy & theory 3
070 – News media, journalism & publishing 3
070 – News media, journalism & publishing 3
620 – Engineering & Applied operations 3
629 – Other branches of engineering 2
620 – Engineering & Applied operations 1
390 – Customs, etiquette, folklore 2
398 – Folklore 2
160 – Logic 2
160 – Logic 2
360 – Social services; association 2
362 – Social welfare problems & services 2
020 – Library & information sciences 2
025 – Library operations 1
021 – Library relationships 1
750 – Painting & paintings 2
759 – Geographical, historical, areas, persons treatment 1
751 – Techniques, equipment, forms 1
380 – Commerce, communications, transport 2
381 – Internal commerce (Domestic trade) 2
970 – General history of North America 2
977 – General history of North America; North central United States 1
974 – General history of North America; Northeastern United States 1
700 – Arts 2
709 – Historical, areas, persons treatment 1
700 – Arts 1
190 – Modern Western philosophy 1
191 – Modern Western philosophy of the United States and Canada 1
030 – Encyclopedias & books of facts 1
031 – Encyclopedias in American English 1
780 – Music 1
786 – Keyboard & other instruments 1
290 – Other & comparative religions 1
296 – Judaism 1
210 – Natural theology 1
210 – Natural theology 1
520 – Astronomy & allied sciences 1
523 – Specific celestial bodies & phenomena 1
950 – General history of Asia; Far East 1
952 – General history of Asia; Japan 1
710 – Civic & landscape art 1
712 – Landscape architecture 1
630 – Agriculture 1
635 – Garden crops (Horticulture) 1
500 – Sciences 1
501 – Philosophy & theory 1
Grand Total 776

I read a lot of management, personal finance, and psychology books. I enjoy reading them. I read them at breakfast, over lunch, before bed, on weekend afternoons. I’m not surprised by the proportions, although I’m a little surprised by the number – have I really checked out an average of eight nonfiction books a week? Gotten through more than 300 management-related books? Neat.

Time

The time data in my current system goes back to November 29, 2011. Excluding the nonfiction books that were returned before then (although still including the books I currently have checked out that I haven’t read yet), there are 727 nonfiction books checked out. Let’s assume I’ve read or skimmed through 80% of those (I’m probably closer to 90%) – that’s ~580 books. I’ve tracked 123.3 hours as “Discretionary – Productive – Nonfiction”. This undercounts the number of hours because I tend to read things over meals and during subway commutes, so let’s double that time to be in the right ballpark for multitasking. That’s a little less than half an hour per book… which is actually quite reasonable, considering I skim through most books in 10-15 minutes each and spend maybe two hours reading selected books in depth (the ones that I take notes on, for example).

This is what my nonfiction reading habit looks like, with the dark boxes indicating when I read more. (This doesn’t take into account reading while doing other things.)

image

That’s interesting… I read a lot more frequently when I was starting up my business in January/February 2012 (although I wonder what happened in April!). I read more sporadically now. I think it’s because I’m re-figuring-out my strategies for taking notes and applying ideas to my life.

How do I pick books to read?

The library releases lists of new books on the 15th or 16th of every month. I’ve written a small script that extracts the titles, authors, and IDs of the book into a text file that I can review. I delete the lines that I’m not interested in, and my script then requests the books that remain on the list. I monitor the new releases because I don’t want to wait for the usual press

When I ‘m learning about a topic, I tend to check out six or more books related to it. A wide variety of books lets me see different viewpoints, and I can focus on books of better quality.

I occasionally look at Amazon’s recommendations for other ideas, although the books are often not yet available at the library.

Sketchnoting a new release can have high impact, which is another reason why I monitor the new releases. I sometimes reach out to publishers for review copies as well.

The library doesn’t carry everything. I usually add other interesting releases to my Amazon wishlist. I rarely buy books, though, because there’s just such an interesting backlog that I haven’t yet gotten through. I buy books if there are clever illustrations that I’d like to use for ongoing inspiration, or if I want to give the book to a friend, or if it’s an older book that someone has recommended to me and the library doesn’t stock it. Now that I have a business, I usually file those books as business expenses.

So much for quantity. If I’m reading all that, what am I doing with it?

I use books to:

  • Learn about different viewpoints and approaches, especially scenarios that I might not anticipate on my own
  • Learn how to organize and communicate complex ideas
  • Get shortcuts on explaining ideas – for example, I don’t have to explain outsourcing from scratch, because I can point people to the 4-Hour Work Week for starters

Many of the ideas I pick up from books resurface in my blog posts and experiments. Books help me recognize what’s going on in real life, because the authors have already come up with words for them. I also like applying the advice from books – much to learn.

I frequently recommend books to other people. Visual book reviews make that easier. I try to slow down and recognize books that I’ll probably recommend to others so that I can make visual book reviews of them while I have the book. Sometimes I’ll take quick text notes for myself and then use that for reference. If I find myself recommending the book frequently, then I’ll check it out again and make better notes.

I don’t review my book notes much, relying instead on situations to trigger my memories. When I come across something that’s related to a book I’ve read, or I talk to someone who could benefit from a book recommendation, I dig through my visual and text-based notes.

Next steps

“Better” isn’t about reading more books – it’s about being able to apply, organize, and share what I’m learning from those books. I want to learn more about doing good research: identifying a topic to explore, synthesizing insights from multiple sources, and adding personal experiences or ideas. The process might look like this:

  • Outline a topic for research
  • Search the library catalogue for resources; also check bibliographies, Amazon, and other recommendations
  • File properly-cited notes so that I can give credit later on
  • Compare and organize ideas from different sources
  • Test ideas in small experiments
  • Write blog posts, then articles, then e-books

Visual book reviews are another way for me to grow. In addition to making visual book reviews of interesting new releases, I’d like to revisit the books that were a big influence on me in order to make visual reviews of them too.

Yay for Quantified Self and tracking. Onward!

(Also, if you’re curious about tracking your own library use: I can probably extend Quantified Awesome to support other libraries with online interfaces, but you’re going to need to walk me through how your library works.)


Update from August 22, 2013: Here’s a presentation I’m putting together for Quantified Self Toronto.

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