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The Notion App Is a Blank Slate for Any Project
Posted On April 14, 2020
One would think that having access to everything at once via our smartphones is one of the greatest achievements ever, but in reality, we’re finding out there’s almost too much information out there—and that it’s hard to get things organized the way we’d like. How do we bring the disparate data of our lives together?

Enter Notion, the “[a]ll-in-one workspace” in which you can “[w]rite, plan, collaborate, and get organized.” Upon opening Notion, you’ll find a tabula rasa staring you in the face. You’re presented with the ability to tweak and transform the app into whatever you need at the moment. Do you want to make a list of all of the things swirling around in your head? Is it a collection of links that you need to remember? Or do you want to take things to the next level and build something bigger? No matter what you’d like to do, this clean slate approach offered by the Notion app gives the user a flexibility that most apps don’t offer these days.

If the tabula rasa approach isn’t your thing, the Notion Template Gallery offers a quick and easy way to create lists of things you’re hoping to get on top of. Its reading lists, personal budgeting formats, and more can help users get started. Librarians are often like superheroes, with their own personal utility belts full of gadgets, gizmos, and tricks to help themselves and community members out. Notion is another one of those resources that should easily find a home on a librarian’s utility belt.

I recently had a chance to chat over email with Camille Ricketts, head of marketing at Notion, to get some more information and insight into the app. Our conversation has been condensed and edited.

An Interview With Notion’s Head of Marketing

Can you give me some background on Notion? What inspired you to create this app? What are some of the things you are hoping your users achieve with this great tool?

It gives you a blank canvas where you can add any content you want—text, bullets, tasks, tables, calendars, videos, images, embeds, and more. In an era when people are inundated with apps and notifications all day, every day, Notion brings all of your work together in one place that you can customize to fit your needs. Individuals can use it for notes and life organization. But it’s also designed for teams and companies to create wikis or knowledgebases for their employees, manage projects both simple and complex, and share documents so that they’re fully collaborative.

I was inspired to join Notion because of the number of rich stories there are to share about what people are building with the product. We’ve seen teams using it to run product road maps, orient new employees, create sophisticated workflows that save time and money, build wikis that make organization-wide work transparent, and more. On the personal side, people use Notion to write books, plan trips, stick to habits, and achieve more than they would otherwise. There’s a lot to show and tell about.

While our near-term goal is to help teams and individuals unlock more productivity, we have a longer-term romantic vision. We want to make it easy for all, regardless of their tech savvy or ability to code, to modify and build tools they love to solve their problems. With its modular, customizable design, Notion is making this increasingly possible.

As a librarian, I see a lot of different ways that people are managing their reading history. I see people bringing notebooks or using a notepad app on their phone. Others are cataloging what they read on websites such as LibraryThing and Goodreads. What do you think Notion offers that those other tools don’t?

Notion makes it possible to build a simple database of books that you’re reading, have read in the past, or want to read in the future. Because it’s so easy to customize Notion, you can add whatever information you want about each book in a clean format. For instance, you can tag books by genre or author. You can tag books based on whether they are on your list to read in the future or already read. You can sort, filter, or search according to any of these properties you introduce. You can add beautiful cover art to jazz up your database and truly make it feel like your own. And, best of all, you can click on any book in your database and a whole page will open up on which you can capture your reading notes however you want—with headers, bullets, and more. You can view an example reading list like this in Notion here.

What are some of your favorite Notion templates that you think library users and librarians would like to check out?

These templates are the best for that audience:

  • Reading List—Record and categorize all the books you’ve read or plan to read. Tag them with custom properties to make them easy to scan and find. Add cover art to create a beautiful catalog of your reading history.
  • Syllabus—If someone is looking to create a class based on reading, or looking to consult a syllabus while in the library, this is an easy way to build one.
  • Class Notes—If you’re a student, you can use this database to take notes on relevant reading for your classes.

The Habit Tracking template is awesome. As someone who tracks a lot of my day-to-day activities on a spreadsheet, how easy is it for me to make the jump to start using Notion?

To make something like this, you would:

  • Create a new page by hitting + New Page at the bottom of your Notion sidebar
  • Click Table in the list of choices on your new page
  • Create new columns for each of your habits, the date, your wake-up time, etc.
  • Start filling it out

The great thing about Notion is how customizable it is. You can name the columns in your table anything you want. You can define the choices inside the columns any way you want.

Public librarians are doing so much more than helping our customers find books these days: We’re running programs and events, helping people fill out forms, helping them learn technology, and more. How do you think Notion can help librarians make their work lives more manageable?

It sounds like one of the challenges is that librarians often share the same material with many different people. Notion can help them document all of this educational material about forms and technology once in a nice format and then easily duplicate and share it with anyone who needs it. Notion is perfect for creating nicely formatted documentation once and then making it available to an audience of many.

What’s the future of Notion look like? Your app is dedicated to helping people organize their lives and make to-do lists. What are some things Notion wants to do in 2020?

While Notion is a great tool for helping individuals to organize their notes, information, habits, and lives, it’s also a great tool for companies to promote collaboration among all of their employees. We are going to do more to make Notion a tool for companies and teams to document and share their knowledge as they grow and to help them manage projects that many people are working on at once.

Motion of the Notion

Be it a quick list or a complex document full of statistics, images, and more, Notion offers all users the chance to create the path that works best for them when it comes to organization. It’s this simple yet effective feature that gives Notion the advantage over the many list-making apps out there. If you’re like me and need some inspiration in order to dive in, here are some templates that I found useful. I hope these help you get started on your own personal Notion journey.

Book List

Shared Reading List

Budget Planning

Disaster Prep Plan

Justin Hoenke is a library consultant who is interested in public libraries as community centers, supporting youth services staff to help them achieve their goals, and video game collection development. You can learn more about his work in libraries at Hoenke previously worked in public libraries across the U.S. and New Zealand in leadership and youth services.

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