In a discussion organized by Norman Chella of RoamFM about Roam Creators, he raised the thought-provoking question: “What would a job description with Roam Research as a hard skill look like?” If you don't know what Roam is, click on my Roam page
One role that popped up was a “Cybrarian.” I'll talk about what that would look like for an applied behavioral science research lab or consultancy since that is the sort of work with which I am most familiar.
I originally heard the term "Cybrarian" in Howard Rheingold's Art of Hosting Good Conversation's online.
A host is also a cybrarian. Good hosts nurture the community memory, pointing newcomers to archives, providing links to related conversations, past and present, hunting down resources to add to the collective pool of knowledge — and teaching others to do it. Well performed voluntary cybrarianship is contagious.
In the context of a research lab or consultancy, a cybrarian would port research, documentation, client deliverables, presentations, organizational learning, and discussion into Roam. They would then assist the team in searching the vast knowledge base of the past for answers to present problems, and train the team to operate within Roam.
Why do this? Because an organization's accumulated knowledge can become its greatest asset if they have a reliable way to manage the quantity. You're not just querying your own memory, but the collective record of everyone on the team's work. Placing knowledge into a system like Roam ensures the knowledge builds on itself rather than existing as many siloed projects. Without an organizational knowledge base, each project starts from a blank page.
Using Roam to support intervention design with the COM-B model
Imagine you are using the COM-B model and recognize that the target population for behavior change has low automatic motivation but high reflective motivation to engage in a target behavior. A cybrarian could query the database and find:
- Other projects with similar constraints
- What interventions you ran that are related to low automatic motivation
- Relevant research papers to those interventions
- The results of your interventions
From there, the cybrarian could help you drill in for further detail. Maybe notes on a past project inform you of an instance when you thought low automatic motivation was the problem, but there actually wasn't sufficient social opportunity. After reading more details from the past project, you realize that this might be true for your current project, so the cybrarian writes another query looking for interventions related to enhancing social opportunity, and you see all of the projects where you have used those interventions in the past. Through this search, you end up finding the right solution to your current problem, avoiding past mistakes.
Skills of a Roam Cybrarian
Some necessary technical skills include:
- Importing information from one source to another (e.g. Paper PDFs -> Zotero -> Roam)
- Reformatting existing notes to better facilitate queries within Roam through proper indentation structures
- Being able to translate open questions for current projects into queries
- Attribute tables (using Murf's plugin) for manipulating structured data
Some necessary soft skills include:
- Familiarity with the broader Roam ecosystem so you're aware of extensions that add functionality, like automatic GitHub backups
- Information architecture for efficient resurfacing and browsing
- Documenting the meta-process of projects
- Enough domain knowledge to recognize specific needs of the organization who you're working with
- The creativity and technical know-how to build workarounds to address limitations of Roam (like coming up with a system for comments and mentions with queries and block references)
- Conversational deftness to recognize when a lookup within the database would be beneficial
- The ability to write reports that summarize a project in a way that facilitates future searches into the database
- Teaching ability to train the team to operate within Roam themselves
- Must understand the difference between the needs and structure of personal knowledge management vs. social knowledge management