December 18, 2014

The Art and Science of Curation: An Interview with Patricia Anderson (3rd in a Series)

By meredithgould

Patricia Anderson

Next up in our series of interviews with the top Twitter-based content curators is this one with Patricia Anderson (@pfanderson), a member of MCCSM's External Advisory Board. (Read the first one with Marie Ennis-O'Connor here; with Elin Silveous, part one here and part two here.)

Like the other content curators interviewed in this series, Patricia serves up much more than content about health and health care. Her many talents (e.g., poet, writer, musician, and artist) and skills (e.g., librarianship), plus a keen analytical mind make for a stimulating mix of curated content.

My best guess is that we first met (online only, alas) during the #hcsm chat on Sunday nights. Years ago. Since then, we've discovered many shared interests and moved to the back channel for more extensive conversations, but I never actually asked her why and how she chooses content to share.

And here's the interview: 

Meredith Gould: What about curation most appeals to you?
Patricia Anderson:
First, I want to clarify “curation.” While my job title is Emerging Technologies Informationist for the Health Sciences, I’m a librarian at heart. Each profession has its own jargon, and "curation" and "curator" are part of professional lingo for librarians.

Librarians use these terms a bit differently and frankly, I'm a little confused about just what “curation” means anymore – in any context! Is it collecting "stuff"? Is it collecting and organizing? Is it collecting, and sharing? Or just sharing? Is it collecting and preserving? For this interview, I’m defining "curation" collecting and sharing. Just that. Nothing more. Curation with a small-c.

What appeals to me most is helping people. I also love the challenge of facing a question and finding answers. I’m driven by curiosity, pure and simple.

MG: When, how and why focus on healthcare?
Excellent question(s)!  [Editor’s note: I can now die happy.]

The rule of thumb that has evolved for sharing content on social media is the old 80/20, Pareto’s Principle. Share 20 percent about your job, company, and similar things. Share 80 percent as conversations and other interests.

Practically speaking, if I happen to be online, see a question that fits my skills and interests, I don't see anyone else has answered, and I have time, then I look up answers. I tend to share whenever the need and opportunity arise.

First, I assess the audience – which is rarely just the person who asked. Level of literacy? Information requested? Information needed to understand the answer? New or unusual terms? I like sharing information in real-time Twitter chats because someone will usually ask if the info isn't clear, and then others also get to see the answer. It's also a kind of improvisational high-speed challenge.

As is true for many of us working in health, my “why” has very personal roots. My mother was a nurse’s aide during part of my childhood. I remember one grandfather being seriously ill for much of my childhood. I helped provide personal care for one grandmother with dementia. When I got my first job as a medical librarian, my remaining grandmother said, “Good. You’ll be able to help people.” That was the first time I realized clearly that it was important to me, also.

Healthcare is such a fundamental and intimate area in which to help others, and the needs are so immediate and so great. I want to not only share useful information, but also strategies and techniques that will help empower people in caring for their own health and loved ones.

MG: Where and how do you gather content to curate?
The tough question! I use different strategies depending on the situation. To begin, with there's scanning for appropriate content. There’s also explicitly searching for topical content. After that, there’s looking for content to address a specific question or targeted information need, and sharing it more widely because it’s potentially interesting for others.

General Scanning:
I have my Twitter account linked to multiple social bookmarking tools, so that all links I share in Twitter are automatically kept. See a link that interests me? It's less work to hit "retweet" and keep the link than it is to try to copy the link somewhere else.

On Twitter, I have three simple and obvious strategies for sorting: 1) Use lists. 2) Use the Discover button. 3) Follow good people, then trust to random chance, and hope to get lucky. What can I say? It seems to work pretty well, at least for me!

Topic Scanning:
As an Emerging Technologies Informationist, I subscribe to alerts for a number of journals, and I also have searches set up in Pubmed and Google that automatically send updates by email.

There are also sources I try to check periodically: tech news sources, blogs, individuals, Arxiv, bioRxiv,, professional associations, Facebook groups, Google Plus communities, etc. When I receive updates, I skim, then pop open browser tabs, some of which get closed after I look more closely.

Some get saved and some get shared immediately. Some are shared with specific individuals I know are interested in that topic. Some are collected into thematic groups for emerging trends or topics. I typically have 200-500 tabs open at a time. I set all browsers to save history and reopen all windows and tabs in case of a crash, and also copied tab links out to a text file.  I’ve recently started using the OneTab plugin with Google Chrome, which allows me to sort and select tabs to save as either clusters or individual links.

Explicit Searching
My top two places to search for specific answers are Pubmed and Google Scholar. I'm awfully good at searching. Not the top expert by a far stretch, but “better than the average bear.” I have tips and tricks that make this much faster, and luckily, I've already saved them in handy places.

Most of my basic Google searching tips are in a Slideshare file  that I was lucky enough to have picked up by Mashable shortly after it was posted.

I have more tips explicitly for health information searching in the MLA Guide, a 3 volume series of books coauthored and edited by myself and Nancy Allee. Luckily for you, the meat of it has been distilled down into a four-page handout available free as a PDF.

When I'm searching for a new topic, I often start by trying to learn the words used, and to see if I can find clues to other words people use to describe the idea. That's the single most important idea for searching – describe the idea in different ways.

I'm also addicted to using the minus sign to help clean a search of results I don't want, like this:

 diabetes treatment diet site:gov filetype:pdf -juvenile -youth

what I want > diabetes treatment diet
from who > site:gov
in what form > filetype:pdf
without this stuff >  -juvenile -youth

In Pubmed, the "Clinical Queries" button allows me to focus in on original research very quickly.

MG: How do you decide what to use?
What I really do? [laughs] Again, in my books or book chapters or teaching resources, I've developed tools to help explain the most important concepts. CHAIN of TRUST is one I've used a lot: Candor, Honesty, Accountability, Information Quality, Neighborly (of) Timeliness, Relevant, Unbiased, Scope, Trustworthy. This is just one tool for assessing information quality quickly.

Simpler and more memorable is the CRAP TestCurrency, Reliability, Authority, and Purpose/Point of View. What I miss most in that shorter one is the idea of being a good neighbor as part of information creation, behavior, and sharing.

I've built instincts and habits as a result of spending a lot of time working in online health information. I know the sources I trust. I think about that omnipresent invisible social media audience, who will be reading and try to cater to their interests, needs, and abilities. Ultimately, it comes down to whether or not it interests me enough for me to want to find it again. That personal gut-feeling shapes a great deal of my information sharing.

Also, as a "militant moderate," I intentionally seek, identify, and share information from opposing views. I try to find voices or resources on both sides that cite credible evidence, and communicate effectively. Sometimes, though, I’ll share something to illustrate an idea, just to show a range of thought.  The phrase, "does not imply endorsement" is especially true for me. Don't try to guess my opinions from what I tweet! And absolutely do not assume that I or my employer or followers approve of specific views I've shared.

MG: How do you use scheduling tools?
I don’t. Or rather, it depends. In general, I’ve noticed so many blow-ups where a pre-scheduled social media post went wrong because it accidentally used words related to some horrible event that happened after it was scheduled and before it was released. It’s a risk I prefer to avoid.

Choose a message to share 
What goes into social media curation, anyway?
Where and how do you gather content to curate on social media?
Social media curation is about more than just serving up content.

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