I’ve promised that I’d start to explain my entire path toward my own Personal Knowledge Management system.
Part 1: What is the Problem?
So my whole take on the Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) craze is that I need to build a set of applications, procedures and tools that allow me to reach my end goal:
"I use and maintain an ongoing archive and database of useful information based on my interests that is resilient in the face of technology changes. My data are linked in ways that both allow me to uncover hidden relationships and also allow for greater understanding of the problems I am using the system to work on. My workflow is easy to implement with distinct steps for each class of information that it contains. I can add new items to it easily without significant extra investments in time. I accomplish this by using workflows for different types of information with clear boundaries for what goes where. This well defined system allows me to quickly and easily enter, edit and link information within my archive. This system will be implemented so that I have incorporated my current archive of information and it will allow for a new information to be added and the entire archive to grow as my needs and interest areas change.
The resulting database of ideas, inspiration, reference and my own thoughts will help me do more creative work, improve my ability to think in a critical fashion and help me achieve my long term goals especially the ones related to AnimalTrakker/LambTracker, Regenerative Agriculture, Genetic Diversity of the North American Welsh Mountain Sheep population, History of the North Fork, and my personal interests including textiles both ancient and modern, family genealogy and the large photo archive and catalog."
I recognize that building this archive will take time and that upgrading my current reference system to use new tools will also take time but the goal is a clean and concise system.
One of the first tasks I had is to identify the major areas or pain points with my current system.
My archive consists of a number of source types:
- Personal digital notes in plain text or rich text format (and perhaps moving to markdown in future). These can be located in DEVONThink or as plain and rich text files on one or more internal or external hard drives and our NAS server.
- Personal notes handwritten on paper. Often filed in my paper filing cabinet. Occasionally scanned into PDF files.
- Personal handwritten notes on my iPad. In GoodNotes format.
- Larger files, blog posts and other medium and long form writing I have created. Mostly in Scrivener but some in Libre Office.
- Libre Office files, including write, calculate, presentation and database formats. I do have a few powerpoint presentations as references from other people but LibreOffice can read them and I treat those sources as the same. Ditto for any other MS Office files.
- Scientific research papers and books that are in PDF format. These typically have a DOI number but not always.
- Various Thesis papers from researchers. Usually in PDF format but some in Word. These typically do not have a DOI number.
- PDF Files that are more generic and not strictly scientific papers or references. Most of them do not have a DOI number.
- Emails either to or from me. I use standard Apple Mail These are currently archived into a separate DEVONThink database on a rolling calendar system. Newest emails are kept in Apple Mail and as they age out they get moved to the DT Archive.
- Web pages, sometimes just the links, sometimes captured data. These may include images either embedded or as separate image files.
- Kindle books purchased from Amazon with both highlights and notes in those books. I have over 1000 kindle books in my Amazon library
- Kindle books from either open source sources like Gutenberg or other publishers like Manning or Take Control Books or even individual authors like Kourosh Dini and others. I have over 800 of these types of Kindle books.
- Kindle books that I have borrowed, read, sometimes made notes on, and returned. I have about 200 of these.
- Paper books. Many of these are old and do not have ISBN numbers. Some have annotations written in them not by me but by other people. Some have notes about them that I created in one of my above formats, handwritten, scanned paper, on paper, in short computer files etc. There are over 3000 paper books in my personal library.
- Other images like digital format pictures and digitized analog pictures are being handled separately and will not be discussed here except where such a file has as a part of the information one or more notes or comments about it or it is an illustration or figure for a reference item described above.
My current system of archiving consists of both paper and digital formats. My paper system consists of 5 large paper filing cabinets and 15+ bankers boxes full of paper files and notes. My digital file cabinet is things sorted in a shallow layer of folders by subject in one of two locations. The digital filing system is approximately 400GB on my main machine and approximately 750GB on another machine.
As my archive has grown it has become harder and harder to locate ancillary sources. While my filing systems, both paper and digital are good for finding things by major subject it falls down when searching for things with numerous minor subjects or multiple major subjects when I can’t remember what I originally considered the primary subject. The scientific papers specifically are a jumbled mess because I was not consistent in renaming them when I pulled PDFs down and the names are not human readable. I have no way to correlate papers written by the same author unless I happened to create a note that mentioned both papers and the authors in it. There is no linking of related papers and in spite of DEVONThink’s see also AI tools they are not really sufficient to cover the variety of sources I have.
So I have a complex set of inputs and a need for a number of different systesm to handle them. Up next, what I decided to tackle First.