Research suggesting people who doodle during meetings retain more information than non-doodlers is good news for Jill Ellern, systems librarian at Hunter Library. Ellern has doodled on whatever she could find – agendas, scrap paper, Post-it notes and even a banana – during the thousands of hours of meetings she has attended in the past 25 years.
Now, 133 of her doodles are featured in an exhibit at Hunter Library that will be open through December. Also posted with the exhibit are copies of research articles, including one titled “What Does Doodling Do?” by Jackie Andrade. Published in Applied Cognitive Psychology in 2009, Andrade reports that participants who listened to a monotonous mock telephone message retained 29 percent more information if they doodled.
The Reporter: When did you start doodling?
Ellern: I began doodling with my first library job in all the meetings I attended.
The Reporter: How do you decide what to draw? Do you have more than one doodle of the same subject?
Ellern: Only a few doodles have what can be called subjects. I never know what is going to come out or what shape will inspire me and if it will be nice looking or not. Some I think are just ugly. My brother told me when he saw them that they were disturbing, but most folks seem to like them.
The Reporter: Have you studied art?
Ellern: Only in high school, where I figured out early that I was not much of an artist in the traditional sense but a great copier. So, I took up photography.
The Reporter: What inspired you to pursue doodling?
Ellern: I really loved woodcut art and tried scratch boards as a kid but wasn’t so good at that either. A pen or pencil is the best for my doodles. I have tried woodburning. After awhile, the (woodburning pen) is hot and hard to hold.
The Reporter: What led you to keep the doodles?
Ellern: Some are just so cool, and I have wondered if the subject of the meeting had a relationship to the shape or how pretty it was, and so I began putting what the meeting was and the date. But, no, it doesn’t (have a relationship). Now it just is interesting to see what comes of the subject.
The Reporter: Where do you keep them?
Ellern: I have a big cork board up in my office I put them on. They began overrunning the area, and I have had to store them. I also have them on odd pieces of paper on my desk that haven’t made it to the cork board. I hate to lose good ones.
The Reporter: How did the exhibit come about?
Ellern: I’ve been wanting to do something with them for ages; I have so many cool ones. I have thought about tattoos, but no one I talked to was interested. I’ve thought of lasering them into wood. At least exhibiting them gets folks to see them, and it cleans up the cork board for new ones in my office.
The Reporter: What would you say to encourage others who may be interested in taking up doodling?
Ellern: It makes you very productive during those long long meetings. In fact, I’ve had folks watching me doodle who said to me afterwards that watching me work made the meeting go better. It keeps me quiet and busy, but you do need to be careful not to wiggle the table too much as you work. Folks don’t like that.
To see more of Ellern’s doodles, visit an online album of her work.
Interview by Teresa Killian Tate published in edited and condensed form