Have you really read all these?: Anti-libraries and Knowledge

No, I haven’t read all of the books I own cover-to-cover. I read a couple books a week all the way through. I strategically skim and search a couple more. A lot can be learned from the introduction and opening chapters of a book, so I habitually download, search, and read samples from the Kindle store. Highlights and notes from all this reading go into DEVONthink and Ulysses.

PDFs, ebooks, and web archives also go in DEVONthink, where I tag everything. DEVONthink’s AI augmented search helps me find connections among sources, including ones I haven’t read yet.

All of the partially read and unread text I collect and curate form an anti-library, one that has been useful in my writing and research on neurodiversity, disability, tech ethics, and education.

Ulysses and DEVONthink are my zettelkasten, anti-library, research database, cognitive net, and thinking space. No, I haven’t read everything that they and my bookshelves hold, but I’m constantly discovering, rediscovering, and connecting ideas while creating the conditions for serendipity.

Someone walks into your house and sees your many books on your many bookshelves. Have you really read all these? they ask. This person does not understand knowledge. A good library is comprised in large part by books you haven’t read, making it something you can turn to when you don’t know something. He calls it: the Anti-Library.

I remember once in college, the pride I felt about being able to write an entire research paper with stuff from my own anti-library. We all have books and papers that we haven’t read yet. Instead of feeling guilty, you should see them as an opportunity: know they’re available to you if you ever need them.

This is the mark you must aim for as a researcher, to not only have enough material - and to know where the rest of what you haven’t read will be located - on hand to do your work. You must build a library and an anti-library now… before you have an emergency presentation or a shot at a popular guest post.

Source: The 5-Step Research Method I Used For Tim Ferriss, Robert Greene, and Tucker Max

Some questions are only asked by people with a fundamental misunderstanding. The friends who walk into my office and ask, “have you read all of these” miss the point of books.

In his book, The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb describes our relationship between books and knowledge using the legendary Italian writer Umberto Eco (1932-2016).

The writer Umberro Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have. How many of these books have you read?” and the others—a very small minority—who get the point is that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendages but a research tool. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means … allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.

Taleb adds:

We tend to treat our knowledge as personal property to be protected and defended. It is an ornament that allows us to rise in the pecking order. So this tendency to offend Eco’s library sensibility by focusing on the known is a human bias that extends to our mental operations. People don’t walk around with anti-résumés telling you what they have not studied or experienced (it’s the job of their competitors to do that), but it would be nice if they did. Just as we need to stand library logic on its head, we will work on standing knowledge itself on its head.

A good library is filled with mostly unread books. That’s the point. Our relationship with the unknown causes the very problem Taleb is famous for contextualizing: the black swan. Because we underestimate the value of what we don’t know and overvalue what we do know, we fundamentally misunderstand the likelihood of surprises.

The antidote to this overconfidence boils down to our relationship with knowledge. The anti-scholar, as Taleb refers to it, is “someone who focuses on the unread books, and makes an attempt not to treat his knowledge as a treasure, or even a possession, or even a self-esteem enhancement device — a skeptical empiricist.”

My library serves as a visual reminder of what I don’t know.

Source: The Antilibrary: Why Unread Books Are The Most Important

Bringing Safety to the Serendipity in Digital Pedagogy

“That’s the piece that’s been missing, bringing the safety to the serendipity.”

Source: Closing Tabs, Episode 3: Teaching with(out) Social Media – UMW Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies

This is a very insightful conversation on digital pedagogy between educator Jesse Stommel and data scientist Kris Shaffer. I recommend adding their blogs to your feed reader. I really enjoy their writing.

The line “that’s the piece that’s been missing, bringing the safety to the serendipity” struck me as a great distillation of the challenge before us. Collaboration in an LMS—closed off from the greater internet and the creative commons—lacks the full potential for ”created serendipity”. Twitter is full of serendipity and the possibility for genuine connections, communities, and networks, but also white supremacists, trolls, and bots. There are an awakening and a counter-awakening messily battling it out in a corporate-owned commons incentivized by ads and exponential growth.

Opportunities for serendipity increase with bigger, more diverse networks…

The gospel of the new economy is the transformative power of a diverse, genuine network.

Source: Courtney E. Martin on the Coworking Revolution – Design.blog

Yet these seemingly serendipitous events, are also based on our willingness to create connections and be in the space, and to put in the effort in the first place.

I often tell people that if you start connecting with others in online spaces, you won’t just find great ideas, but the great ideas will find you.

Source: Created Serendipity – The Principal of Change

Today’s organizations must be able to unlock and engage both internal and external networks, in an effort to not only tap into a diversity of voices, but a diversity and divergence of thinking and ideas. These networks not only provide a platform for engaging an ongoing flow of the novel and new, they also create a cognitive space to play with ideas that often leads to not only the creation of new knowledge, but new actions and new ways of working.

Source: Networks: An Engine For Scaling Learning And Innovation (Part 3) | DCulberhouse

but those networks, in their current forms, are actively hostile to psychological safety.

There’s a term for this: psychological safety. The researcher Amy Edmondson demonstrated that teams can appear to be strong on the surface: people like and respect each other, and they get along well. Despite that, they may have an environment where everyone sits silently while the boss talks at them, or where people feel ashamed to be vulnerable and open up about their fears. They might all love hanging out together after work, but nobody can bring themselves to tell someone when they’ve got toilet paper stuck to their shoes. If we want a climate where people can accomplish groundbreaking things, we need to know our voice will be heard and where we’re not afraid to take risks.

The best jazz bands, like the best Google teams, provide the space to take risks. We already know jazz artists have hyperaware senses and can pick up on nonverbal clues. But everyone also gets a voice. In jazz, it’s assumed that unexpected contributions can come from anyone. Getting a “voice” also means every band member takes a turn soloing. Each player spends time as both leader and follower. Miles was always attune to the contributions of everyone. If he realized someone hadn’t had a solo in a while, he’d lean over to them and whisper in his gravelly voice that they should take the lead.

Followership in jazz is worthy of the highest respect-it’s known as comping.Comping is listening and responding without overshadowing. Followership needs to be active, not passive. It’s not about sitting back and letting someone else do all the work. You take an indispensable role in giving space, riffing, experimenting, and supporting. And yet leading and talking are more valued than following and listening in our work culture.

Source: Please Make Yourself Uncomfortable – What product managers can learn from jazz musicians – Ken Norton

I’m exploring micro.blog, IndieWeb, and indie ed-tech with that missing mix of psychological safety + serendipity in mind. Let’s build what comes next with the spirit of active followership and comping.

I can imagine this platform, or at least concept, being used in an educational environment, allowing students to easily engage with various feeds in a central space.

Source:  How-to micro.blog, a micro.guide – Read Write Collect

Often when I say that I think that the “Domain of One’s Own” initiative is one of the most important education technologies, I always hear pushback from the Twitter riffraff. “What’s so special about a website?” folks will sneer.

Well, quite a lot, I’d contend. The Web itself is pretty special – Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s vision of a global hyperlinked information system. A system that was – ideally at least – openly available and accessible to everyone, designed for the purpose of sharing information and collaborating on knowledge-building endeavors. That purpose was not, at the outset, commercial. The technologies were not, at the outset, proprietary.

I’m pretty resistant to framing “domains” as simply a matter of “skills.” Because I think its potential is far more radical than that. This isn’t about making sure literature students “learn to code” or history students “learn to code” or medical faculty “learn to code” or chemistry faculty “learn to code.”

Rather it’s about recognizing that the World Wide Web is site for scholarly activity. It’s about recognizing that students are scholars.

And that’s the Web. That’s your domain. You cultivate ideas there – quite carefully, no doubt, because others might pop by for a think. But also because it’s your space for a think.

Source: Why ‘A Domain of One’s Own’ Matters (For the Future of Knowledge)

Jesse and Kris touch upon Mastodon, IndieWeb, and federation (including their limitations) as well as a number of other interesting topics in the episode. Highly recommended. Check it out.

Jesse and I have taught with Twitter for ages, often requiring students to create accounts, tweet about their coursework, even crafting assignments where a single tweet was the assignment. But we don’t anymore.

Why not? What do we do instead? How do we help our students navigate the world of public, digital scholarship in a world increasingly dominated by harassment, abuse, disinformation, and polarization? Well, for that, you’ll have to listen.

Jesse and I mention a number of tools, platforms, and services that we find useful in different contexts. As promised, here are links!

Jesse’s and Kris’s past class Medium publications can be found here: Introduction to Digital Studies and Modeling Music.

Slack is the online community space that we use regularly for our classes, especially (but not exclusively) online classes.

Kris’s (former) guide for public student writing (including Jesse’s Twitter essay prompt reworked for a music class) can be seen here.

Jesse mentioned Mastadon, a distributed social platform based on GNU Social.

A number of the tools Kris mentions for privacy and security can be found here. Kris also mentioned Keybase, a Slack-like, end-to-end encrypted communication platform that functions similar to Slack (though balancing increased security with less bells and whistles).

Source: Closing Tabs, Episode 3: Teaching with(out) Social Media – UMW Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies

See also,

POSSE: WordPress.com -> Micro.blog -> Twitter

Many of my tweets start on my microblog. My microblog is hosted on WordPress.com and hooked into the Micro.blog community via its RSS syndication feed. I usually post with the Micro.blog iOS and macOS apps, though sometimes I use the WP.com apps or web interfaces. I like having options.

On my main, long-form blog (this site), my “Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere” (POSSE) flow uses wp.com’s Publicize feature to publish to social media.

A screenshot of WordPress.com’s Publicize admin interface showing connections to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and Path.

A screenshot of the post sharing interface on WordPress.com showing connected Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn accounts and a history of publication for each

But on my microblog, I use Micro.blog’s cross-posting bot.

A screenshot of Micro.blog’s cross-posting admin interface showing the three feeds I have configured, one of which is setup to cross-post to Twitter and Facebook. Header text reads: “These feeds should contain posts you wrote. When someone follows you, they will see posts from all of these feeds in their timeline. If you have an external blog such as WordPress, you can add that feed below.”

I tested the bot with a post containing a link, an image, and an image description. Here’s how it displayed on Micro.blog, WordPress.com, and Twitter:

Micro.blog macOS app

The POSSE link and image description are intact.


rnbn.blog is the source. It captures the post in its full.

Screenshot of the blog post as displayed in Chrome on macOS

Aside: @wordpressdotcom, we really need to improve image display when full-size images are inserted (as commonly happens when posting with some interfaces). Images flowing below the fold is not a good experience. Jetpack improves gallery display, but this attention doesn’t extend to individual images.


The link url and the image description are extracted and inlined. Nicely done. I really like that image descriptions are included, making defaulting to accessible easier.


Embeds are not handled so nicely. The Facebook embed was stripped from this post when syndicated to Micro.blog and Twitter. In WordPress, embeds are inserted by pasting plain links into the editor. My expectation was that the link would be extracted from the embed and passed along to Micro.blog and to Twitter. For posts that are quotes, this can result in the link to the source being stripped.

Before I tweet, I consider directing the thought toward my microblog first. The microblog is becoming my default for less than 280 characters as well as less than a few hundred words. POSSE allows those thoughts to keep flowing to Twitter where folks in the education, tech, publishing, neurodiversity, and disability communities I inhabit hang out and create serendipity.