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A picture of Trevor Owens

Trevor Owens

Librarian, historian

in historian, librarian, mac

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm a librarian and a historian. My work is primarily focused on preserving and interpreting digital sources and records. I have a few different specific roles and they come with some varied constraints on the kind of tools that I work with and use.

Specifically, I'm the first Head of Digital Content Management at the Library of Congress. I am also a Public Historian in Residence at American University, and a lecturer for the University of Maryland's College of Information, where I'm also a Research Affiliate with the Center for Archival Futures.

What hardware do you use?

Most of my best thinking and writing starts on hard cover ruled 5" x 8.25" Moleskine notebooks. I currently go through one about every six months or so for personal journaling and general thinking/notetaking. I have a 13-inch MacBook Air from 2012 that has 8 gig of memory and 120 GB of storage on it that I use for a lot of writing and teaching. I also have a 2019 27-inch iMac that has 2 TB of data storage on it, an iPhone XS Max, and an iPad. For official day job business I work on the default Dell laptop that IT supports.

And what software?

For my job, I mostly work between the standard set of MS Office applications, some Atlassian tools, and a range of internal applications that support digital content management. As a middle manager in a large organization, a lot of my work is sorting through incoming communication and coordinating meetings to help ensure that folks across teams have the info they need to do their work. As a result, I spend a lot of time in Outlook's inbox and calendar and a lot of time in Zoom. Along with that, a good bit of my time involves reviewing and circulating word documents that are loaded up with track changes. I also end up spending a good bit of time with spreadsheets pivoting tables and sorting and filtering in Excel.

The teams that I support largely work through scrum practices and use JIRA and Confluence to track and organize projects. We work across a series of tools to support managing digital content that are described in more depth in this paper on file extensions in the collections. I contribute to a blog that runs on WordPress, and my personal blog and the site I use to teach my digital history course also run on WordPress. Both of the universities I teach for run instances of Canvas as their platforms for teaching. They also run a wide range of clunky software for things like submitting grades.

I also spend a good bit of time reading Twitter via TweetDeck and after Google Reader died, I settled into using Feedly, mostly on my phone. There is so much churn on Twitter of the same stuff that I still really get a lot out of subscribing to all kinds of stuff through RSS, a mixture of blogs, news sources, and table of contents alerts for scholarly journals I follow. As I find interesting stuff in Feedly, I use Buffer to queue it up to roll out at times when it's more likely to get seen and shared further.

What would be your dream setup?

I don't dream about software and hardware anymore. For a longtime I kept trying to find and use new task management and tracking apps and tools to try and up my productivity game. I've largely lost faith in the cult of productivity. I've increasingly come to appreciate some of the friction that comes from shifting between tools and systems and from writing and rewriting by hand. On some level, I'd love to not have to work across different email platforms for the various roles that I work with, but at the same time, I do like that I can go on vacation, or shift out of teaching for a semester, and just stop checking that inbox.

All that said, I think my real dream setup would be to get computing tools and systems that last longer. e-Waste is a disaster and I try to get as much use and life out of the computing systems that I pick up and work with. I've been increasingly thinking about the future of digital content in the Anthropocene and we need to turn the corner out of the endless upgrade cycles and get to something where we can have longer lived computing systems and tools. So my real dream setup would be escaping the planned obsolescence of computing to have easy to use tools and systems that I could use and repair over the course of the rest of my life. To that end, I dream of more sustainable and much more minimal computing.