How do you take notes in the archives?
Report from the front line.
Over the past 1.5 weeks here at the BL I’ve surreptitiously spied on my fellow archive rats to see how they take notes. No surprise that most use a laptop, though of course there are still several old-schoolers using pencil and paper (haven’t seen any 3×5 notecards, oddly enough). And one guy that keeps shining a bright light through the paper, looking for who knows what. [The BL doesn’t allow any photography – the bastards.]
The vast majority of those using laptops are using some type of word processor software. Only a few, including myself, use some kind of database program – the only one I could identify was Evernote.
I did just notice an interesting variation, however: someone using an iPad for notetaking. I brought one for the trip, but haven’t been bringing it to the archives because of my tiny portfolio case [note to self: bring a bigger bookbag]. I was particularly intrigued, however, by *how* he used his detachable wireless keyboard. I have one for the iPad but chose not to take it on the trip, for space reasons and because my laptop has an even better keyboard. But this means that I have two objects with large footprints that I have to fit within 1-2 feet of the edge of the desk (to reach the keyboard and to easily read the ms). Thus both the book stand and keyboard are angled at a 120 degree (or so) angle to each other. This means having your body facing the laptop and craning your neck off to the side to read the book. As it is, after transcribing for several hours my back/neck/shoulders get sore and I need to switch the laptop from one side to another (and the angle of the chair as well). Ironically, I had thought I’d have more soreness in the first part of the trip from bending over mss to photograph them. Ah, the occupational hazards of the life of the mind.
What I didn’t appreciate (and he has) is that with a small, portable, detachable keyboard you decrease the footprint by separating the keyboard from the screen (i.e. iPad), which means you can put the small, ‘short’ keyboard right in front of the book stand, have the screen off to one side, sit straight, and have the book lined up with the keyboard and close enough to see easily, just a foot or so away [Did I mention the BL Mss room has horrible lighting, and most of the mss handwriting is tiny? And I probably need bifocals?] This would seem to provide a much better sitting posture since your shoulders and head/neck are in proper alignment. Plus, it encourages you to stop looking at the screen, which makes for faster touch typing (even if there may be a few more typos).
Of course one other way to mitigate this would be to not transcribe so many sources, but personally I find it more time consuming (or at least mentally taxing) to read through a source and then paraphrase/summarize it than just transcribe it. And transcription provides you with the ability to refer back to their exact language in a way that summarizing doesn’t. Of course it also helps to use various abbreviations (qq for quelque is one of my faves since my fingers always trip up on that word for some reason, and don’t even get me started on aujourd’hui), maybe even use AutoCorrect for common ones.