The PIM Blog Has Moved

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As we know all too well, times change and so do tools. This blogging platform is going away, so we've moved the PIM Blog to There is a link there to an archive of this blog, should you ever need it, and a new post about selecting a task manager. See you there!

Life could be easier ... with plants!

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Looking for a boost? Studies show that plants make people happier and more productive in their work.

A study published in the journal of Landscape and Urban Planning shows that employees with windows overlooking vegetation report that they are more satisfied than those who do not (Kaplan, 1993). Another research study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology shows the effect of plants on worker productivity (Raanaas, Evensena, Richb, Sjøstrøma, & Patila, 2011). Two groups of participants performed the same task, one in a room with plants and one without. The group with plants improved their scores the second time they performed the task and the other group did not.


These are just two examples of many studies that show how nature can improve cognition, focus, satisfaction, lower stress levels, blood pressure, and reduce road rage (Jaffe, 2010). But why plants? University of Michigan psychologists claim that we can restore mental fatigue when we shift to an effortless form of engagement like nature. Although there are other ways to restore attention, plants are more efficient because of the oxygen they release into the air (Wolverton, 1989), and their need to be tended.

Stop by your local co-op or find a garden center near you.

No windows in your office? These are some plants that can do well without direct sunlight. These are plants NASA suggests are best to filter air.

Get growing!



Jaffe, E. (2010). Discovering why the human mind needs nature. Observer, 23.

Kaplan, R. (1993). The role of nature in the context of the workplace. Landscape and Urban Planning, 26, 193-201.

Raanaasas, R. K., Evensena, K. H. Richb, D., Sjøstrøma, G., & Patila, G. Benefits of indoor plants on attention capacity in an office setting. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 31, 99-105.

Wolverton (1989). A study of interior landscape plants for indoor air pollution abatement. Retrieved from

Photo courtesy of Dave Kleinschmidt via Flickr

Citation Manager Features

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Here's a brief overview of the supported citation managers with some important features to note.


  • RefWorks is mostly located on the web, so you can use it anywhere you have internet access.
  • The University Libraries subscribes to RefWorks for the University of Minnesota community and offers access for alumni once they leave the University.
  • RefWorks has offered consistent, helpful technical support both to library staff and directly to the users.

  • Zotero is a stand-alone app that easily integrates into your workflow and offers quick downloading of citations and PDFs, it also extracts citation information from many PDFs.
  • It works well with a range of different media sources and websites to simplify the process of citing unusual source types.
  • You can sync your citations and PDFs with their website, so you can use your database on multiple computers and share citations with others, however there is a limited amount of free online storage. (300 MB)


  • Mendeley also resides as stand-alone piece of software on your computer.
  • Mendeley automatically extracts citation information from most PDFs, which makes it a great choice for dealing with an existing collection of PDFs on your computer.
  • Mendeley provides the option of automatically renaming PDFs based on your choice of categories. It can also watch and add any new PDFs to Mendeley into folders that you have designated.

  • It has an online website that allows you to sync with multiple computers and work in groups. They offer 2 GB of online storage at no cost, but will charge for additional storage and larger group sharing.


  • EndNote is a software package that can be purchased at the University Bookstore and installed on your computer -- it can be used without an Internet connection.

  • It also offers citation extraction from PDFs and has a batch upload feature.
  • It offers the largest number of citation styles and also has good technical support for users.

  • EndNote offers an iPad app (for an additional cost) and online account (free for U of M) which allows you to work with your citations on your tablet and across multiple computers.

Life could be easier ... with!

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lynda.pngAs e-learning is becoming more prominent, online course design, usability, and organization of information are likewise becoming increasingly important. The online training library sucessfully provides flexible and convenient self-paced instruction on a wide variety of subjects and software programs. As of 2012, offered 1,337 courses and is continually adding more in a wide variety of categories.

While browsing through courses, I was delighted to find that the menu options, headers, and footers are all clean and consistent. There is also an option to bookmark courses that you want to watch another time by simply clicking an icon. This builds a playlist associated with your account that lists courses you are interested in, as well as those recently started or completed. Additionally, it is easy to see where you left off if you haven't finished the entire course yet.

My favorite feature of the site is that although many courses are several hours long, they are organized into short lesson segments; a particular lesson might only last between five and ten minutes. This makes the content much more digestible and can be handy for wanting to learn only one procedure or aspect of a topic. Users can choose if they want to play a whole chapter or simply an individual video in a setting.

Although the courses are not interactive, they are engaging and instructionally sound. The instructors are experts on the topics and use a variety of screenshots, illustrations, and animations to engage the users. The examples used are realistic and the content is challenging while catering to a wide range of users and experience. Finally, the courses work on PC, Mac and a variety of mobile devices.

I took a course on Google Analytics to help with my job but found a variety of topics that personally interest me including video editing and film scoring that I will take in the future. Check it out!

Life could be easier...with a system

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Cleaning up my digital workspace
Guest blogger: Carolyn Rauber

I use four tools to manage my work: Evernote for notetaking; Google Drive for document storage and sharing; Google tasks for deadlines, checklists, and reminders; and a nifty little app called Thinglist for jotting down names, ideas, or anything that might land on a Post-It note or on a pad of paper.

You read that correctly: I can describe my system in one sentence! Before you roll your eyes, just a couple months ago it would have sounded like this:


  1. take notes on a little yellow notepad. Sometimes, when I don't bring my laptop to a meeting, I take notes on the Evernote iPhone app (when I can remember the password I chose last time I reset my password). Or, depending how I feel, I use Google docs, MS Word, or the Notepad app on my iPhone.

  2. My documents are in Google Drive and the hard drive on my work laptop (I have a different file structure for each, though). Some of my files are in Dropbox, but only the ones I need to access at home. I also put files in something called my Home Directory, which I used to think was Netfiles but was actually my Active Directory web space. I have one or two things in Netfiles, I think.

  3. I have a constellation of Post-It notes, calendar alerts, Google tasks, large pieces of paper stuck to my wall, and notes on a whiteboard in my office to keep track of deadlines and to-do lists.

  4. If I need to write down a name, idea, or interesting book title -- gee, that could be anywhere.

After accumulating a year of stuff this way (I started at the Libraries in July 2012), I felt completely swamped. I decided to follow PIM's advice: take a few days, sit down, and organize my stuff. The challenge for me was choosing a system that reflected how I like to work. In an organizational fervor, I tend to create overly complicated file structures and tagging systems that look nice, but have no relationship to my workflow. That was what I wanted to avoid.

What follows were the biggest challenges, the ones about which my poor officemates heard me complain most loudly. I started at the beginning of the summer term, when my schedule was quieter. In all, it took several afternoons of effort, though I worked on it sporadically over a several weeks.



For note taking, I used notepads and my iPhone because I didn't like carrying my laptop to meetings in other buildings. I often used Google Drive for notes when I had my laptop, but it just didn't work for me because I couldn't differentiate my notes from other Google docs. I didn't want all my notes in a separate folder on Drive, or write "NOTES" in the title, either, because I wanted more context. For me, it was important to see whether the notes were from a conference or a staff meeting.

I had used Evernote sporadically, and had heard good things about it, so I finally chose to commit. First, I copied and pasted notes from Google Drive and from the Notepad app on my iPhone, to new Evernote notes. It took about an hour to create and tag these notes, all said and done -- the easy part. I then went through all my paper notes. I started to discover things like this:


These are meeting notes. Sometime after the meeting, I went back in highlighter to identify this note as related to the astronomy department, and highlight the key parts of the note. As if that would help me find or use it in the future!

I also found things like this:


Those are names of fancy furniture stores, hastily scribbled on meeting notes. The meeting was about statistics and serials, and must have been on my desk at the time. I don't know what I was trying to convey with the bouncy arrow.

As I typed my notes into Evernote, I made sure each note was tagged. (The furniture note was tagged "apartment" and "furniture.") It took hours, and I had to do it incrementally, but I felt much more efficient when all my notes were in one place. I could use the Evernote iPhone app to take notes on the go, or the desktop application on my laptop. I also discovered that I could attach files to a note; when I take notes on a presentation I like, I attach the slides. I still use the paper notepad occasionally, but I make sure to keep my pile of paper notes near me and type them up when I have time.

The biggest challenge of simplifying my note taking was typing handwritten notes. It took awhile to find and type everything, not to mention deciphering some of my handwriting!

Document Storage

For document storage, I wanted to access my files from home, work, or my phone. I also wanted to have collaborative documents in the same place as non-collaborative documents and put an end to the two-separate-file-structures system I had on my hard drive and Google Drive.

I chose Google Drive for the collaborative features, and the simple fact that most work I do takes place on Google Drive. I finally used the Drive desktop application I downloaded ages ago, and moved all the files from "My Documents" into Drive. I threw out my old, complicated file structure and created a flatter, simpler one based on the documents I knew I had. Then I chose a backup schedule.

I was also very diligent about what I kept and how I named files. I knew I had duplicates, versions that could be deleted, and files I wanted to keep. I went through everything. I deleted what I could, but mostly I made sure I could identify each file by title, and to rename it if I couldn't.

The folder that contained all my instruction materials was the biggest challenge. I had a year's worth of presentations, handouts, and prep materials. These came from class sessions, workshops, and orientations, and were all jumbled up. I could have created a folder for each session, but I wanted to keep the structure simple and flat. Instead, I created a file naming system for that folder.


I used the titles to keep workshops, orientations, and class sessions together. I added dates and course designations when I could, and tried to be as descriptive as possible. It's not perfect, but it works very well for me.

The most time-consuming part of this process was moving and renaming files, but it was absolutely worthwhile.

To-Do Lists

When I discovered Google Tasks, I was sure I found the solution to all my problems. "I'll just make a task for myself," I thought, "and will be compelled to get it done!" You can display your Task list by clicking the down arrow next to "Mail" in the top left corner of the page, then selecting "Tasks." I brought up the Tasks window in Gmail and went to town.


At first, I only wrote down long-term tasks and projects, but noticed that after I added a task to the list, I hardly ever looked at it. I had a difficult time breaking up with my Post-Its for immediate to-dos.

What I didn't realize was that Tasks are integrated with both Gmail and Google Calendar. A task with a "due date" adds it to the "Tasks" section of Google Calendar. I usually have my calendar up all day, so it's convenient for me.


I can now add tasks to the day as quickly as I add events. I make little to-do lists for myself every day.


Gmail has shortcuts for adding tasks, as well. You can save specific e-mails as tasks with the Shift + T shortcut. This is less useful for me, but I have used it occasionally when I'm in a hurry. Then I go back and add a due date to the task, which adds it to my calendar.

Those Pesky, Random Jottings

Remember the furniture note from before? I probably wrote that down after a conversation about fancy furniture stores. It ended up in the corner of a different note and was completely forgotten. I had tons of those. I'm looking at one now: a small scrap of paper that says nothing but "dieffenbachia." What am I supposed to do with that?

I ran across an article on Mashable that described an iOS app called Thinglist. It costs $1.99, but the description was what got me: "Thinglist. It's a list of things." That's exactly what I needed: a place to write down things.


This is now where I put things that would otherwise end up on a small scrap of paper in my office. The "dieffenbachia" problem is solved.


And that's it! That's how I organized my life: Evernote, Google Drive, Google Tasks, and Thinglist. Consolidating my information to those tools took some effort, and I'm still developing habits to use them. But I have much more control over my personal information! That alone is worth the trouble.

Life could be easier...with a phablet!

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Name: Link Swanson
Device: Samsung Galaxy Note II
Carrier: Ting

As a technologist, you would think that I would be "all about" tablets and smartphones; however, you would be wrong. Sure, I went through a brief obsession with jailbreaking and unlocking iPhones back in 2007. True, I did at one time drive around with an iPad to attached to my car dashboard with Velcro. But for the past few years I have felt an increasing desire to keep my screen-time at my desk, so I can actually be in the real world without constant interruption to bask in an AMOLED glow at regular five minute intervals.

In spite of this personal preference for keeping my free time screen-free, I must confess that I do whip out the phablet for certain situations, and that I am grateful that I have this miracle-curse on my person in these moments:

I'm looking at something that is broken and I need to fix it. Use the camera!

I snap a lot of photos during the process of repairing things: If I walk into the server room to a black screen filled with cryptic error messages in white text--I can't exactly print out the errors or take a screenshot when the system is stuck booting in runlevel 1--so I take a picture! Or when I am about to unplug a dozen cables from the back of the server: I take a photo before unplugging them all, which provides a handy reference point when it's time to plug them back in!

I'm driving down the road and I have this breakthrough idea. Voice notes!

Creative breakthroughs often come during rather bland routine activities. You can't always take time to write or type these sudden treasures. Voice recorder is a great way to capture them without much fuss. I use also use this for lyrical ideas or when I am improvising on my bass and want to remember that killer riff. Use at your (phone's) risk if you get great ideas while showering.

I'm playing a guitar that is horribly out of tune. Use gStrings!

For all the smartphone nay-saying that I do, I can't argue with the fact that it is pretty awesome to have a guitar tuner on me at all times.

I'm getting alerts that one of my servers is down: ConnectBot!

Hacking the command line while waiting in the checkout line: what a concept. I can make changes and fixes to my servers through SSH from any place where I can pick up a data connection. Pair it with Hacker's Keyboard for a truly powerful pocket administrative capability.

I'm talking with someone and we are trying to explain a spatial/visual concept: S Note and the Stylus!

My phablet has a stylus, and the S Note app from Samsung comes in handy whenever discussing concepts that are best represented visually. Sometimes scribbling a picture saves a lot of frustrating hand gestures when trying to convey spatial/visual relationships. Bonus: you can send the drawing in an email or text message to everyone involved in the conversation.

So there you have it: the situations that I value having a mobile device handy, and the apps that make it so.

Thanks, Link, for your tips! If you're interested in sharing tech tricks that you've picked up that make your life easier, please contact anyone in the PIM collaborative!

Life could be easier...

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The PIM group is relaunching the Life Could Be Easier series, this time featuring users of tablets and other devices. Our first post is from Jon Jeffryes, who was awarded an iPad in November's Emerging Tech Expo Device Competition.

Here's a quick overview of the Apps that I've found most useful since getting a work iPad in January 2013. I'll admit I started out skeptical about how useful an iPad could be in day-to-day work and have found myself pleasantly surprised.

I'm like contractually obliged to mention the EndNote app, since the reason I got the iPad was to offer EndNote Support. I've got to admit it's a pretty nice allows the user to download the citations from their EndNote Web account. You can also connect to Dropbox (if you have the app on your tablet) to connect full text to citations. Once you've got the pdf in the EndNote app you can annotate the pdf in the app itself (it allows highlighting and writing (with your finger or a stylus) directly onto the pdf). It's one of the pricier apps (at least for me)...but the functionality and connection to EndNote Web makes this a pretty powerful tool for mobile access to citations. The one caveat that might be of interest to users is that in the Settings the default is set to on for "Send Anonymous Usage Data" -- that might not be popular.

User feedback in the app store has been mixed, with issues on sync-ing citations and annotations.

Since I was looking ThomsonReuters products I also downloaded

This app is supposed to let you take a photo an article's DOI with your phone and then search Web of Science for the citation information (which you could then export to EndNote Web and download to your iPad).

As of yet I haven't been able to have it work successfully. So not something I use a lot, but I have tested it. If someone has got it work I'd love to learn what I'm doing wrong!

My favorite thing to use the iPad for professional reading. To that end I've downloaded


...which everyone already knows and loves. I store the pdfs there and then open them in


iAnnotate PDF

Reading pdfs on an iPad is so much more pleasant than reading paper (I never thought I'd enjoy the electronic version of anything more)...but my usual practice was to carry multiple printed pdfs around in my bag for months and months and they'd get coffee stained or ripped up. Now I have a bunch in DropBox and can read them in pristine condition. The annotation features in iAnnotate are much more advanced than those available in EndNote -- multiple color highlighting options, typing notes, etc.. Another nice thing for all those folks wishing they had a standing desk is that with the tablet you can stand up and read them.

and finally my unexpected gem is


I'm a meeting doodler and that has always been my least favorite aspect of laptop notetaking. This app provide a screen that looks like a napkin and you can doodle your thought processes to your heart's content during meetings. You can also type in notes, draw diagrams, etc.

I've also found the iPad to be useful during informal presentations...during two recent poster presentations I used my iPad to supplement the presentation by taking people to live examples on the Internet I use


to access the Internet.

I'm also still interested in exploring the possibilities of project management using

Corkulous Pro

I'm hoping to use it for stickies and other reminders to have a virtual, transportable bulletin board. I just haven't gotten around to integrating it into my workflow yet.

And if you love dictionaries you can't beat

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

I downloaded this after Peter Solokowski's speech in Walter Library and it's wonderful...a quick search that feels more reliable then my old Googling technique to find definitions. It also has a "word-of-the-day" feature that I quite enjoy! It fits perfectly in my tablet milieu (today's word of the day!) It also allows you to favorite definitions for easy access and tracks your "recent lookups".

ACS ChemWorx: A New Research Management Tool

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I spent part of my morning today fiddling around with ChemWorx, a new tool from the American Chemical Society. Here is what ChemWorx purports to do, per their email press release:

ACS ChemWorx enables researchers to:

  • Organize their research for online publication

  • Quickly create online profiles with comprehensive messaging and social communication features

  • Organize workgroups and maintain private discussion areas

  • Import, manage and share their research libraries

  • Obtain free access to the ACS Style Guide Online

My initial impression was that this tool is similar to Mendeley. It has an online interface as well as desktop and mobile applications. It allows researchers to connect with each other through their profiles as well as organize and cite their research. I haven't tried out the MS Word plugin for citations yet, although it does exist (as well as Open Office and LaTeX), or the mobile versions. Here are some of my initial impressions from the desktop & web clients:

The Good

  • When I opened the desktop client, I was easily able to import my entire Mendeley Library. I also was able to select articles of my own from a Google Scholar search. Both were super easy to do, and ChemWorx kept my file organization structure from Mendeley.

  • ChemWorx is completely free. There is no tiered pricing structure. What you get in terms of storage space is 5000 publications or 3072 MB.

  • ChemWorx has some neat interfaces for looking at your research/publications. You can use it to look at analytics based on author, journal, publication type, and publisher for your entire collection or for specific folders.

  • ChemWorx has a PDF viewer that can be used to highlight and annotate PDFs

  • Drag & drop capability for adding PDFs.

  • Users can create shared groups or shared collections, and there doesn't seem to be a limit on the number of either.

  • There are quite a few citation styles available (mostly in the sciences, of course, but big ones like MLA & APA are also there.)

  • ChemWorx links out to a lot of search interfaces for finding articles. From within the desktop client, you can search PubMed, Scopus, Web of Science, ACS, Google Scholar, IEEE Xplore, and a whole lot more. These are not, however, connected to institutional accounts, so getting the full text still requires going through the library website.

  • Adding metadata for articles works similarly to Mendeley. Like Mendeley, ChemWorx attempts to mine metadata from PDFs. When this doesn't work, you can enter a doi, pmid, or arXivID to try to find it. It did seem like there were some bugs with this, but only sometimes.

The Not-So-Good or Just Plain Confusing

  • The biggest problem I had was that the Help for ChemWorx has very little content. I was mostly left to my own devices to figure things out, and for some things that never happened.

  • The storage space limitations are not as robust as some might need.

  • I wasn't able to actually add documents to my groups or collections. I also could not figure out how to add someone to a shared collection (and of course, there was nothing about this in the Help.)

  • Once I added all of my Mendeley articles to the desktop interface, I was unable to view my library in the online version even though I synced.

  • Some of the desktop features actually go to a web interface, so that's a little confusing. I'm not sure if or how they would work offline.

  • In the online interface I can see some functionality for creating tasks and events and sharing those with others. I cannot figure out where those are in the web version. Also, my tasks aren't even displaying in the online version.

  • Messages posted to groups seem to only appear in the online version.

Overall impression
I think ChemWorx needs some more time. Most of the issues I found with it were due to bugginess and lack of documentation -- both of which I hope will improve with some time. It's not something I would be ready to recommend to users yet. That said, I will keep an eye on it because I think it's a good start and could be a nice alternative to Mendeley, particularly for users who want to have multiple groups and not pay extra for them.

Mendeley Updates

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Mendeley has received a range of incremental upgrades and tweaks over the last six months. These include a redesigned interface, better PDF handling and searching, an improved plugin for MS Word on the Mac, and refreshed citation styles.

The most interesting advances, however, deal with finding a easy way to edit or create custom citation styles. Mendeley partnered with Columbia University Libraries to create an accessible editor and you can start using the beta at

The editor allows you to create your own style, tweak existing ones, and even enter what your style looks like and find matches from the database. While the system is coming along, it is still not the most intuitive, and I hope that they continue to refine. That said, it is a viable way to edit and create new citation styles for Mendeley or Zotero, something users have been asking for.

Google+ Notifications by Circle

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Google has added notifications by circle, e.g. when you select this option, you'll be notified by the notification box in the Google Bar and via email (unless you go turn it off).

Click to see full-size image.

Google+ Notifications.jpeg

This is a nifty improvement since you can save your visits to Google+ for when there's new information to see.

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