Librarian By Name, Geek By Nature

11/07/2012 § 50 Comments

My cohort, we talk. After our weekend intensive classes, we often go out roaming in search of a likely bar, and when we find one, we sit, we drink, and we talk. And since we’ve generally just spent 12 hours in class together, we usually end up talking about library school.

This month marks the halfway point through our MLS program,  and by now we’ve begun to form some strong opinions on the subject: what’s working, what’s not, what we’d change if we could.  And a few of us began to play with this question: if you could design your own MLS program from scratch, what features would you definitely include? Especially those that are lacking from library education as it exists today — if you were establishing the program that would define library school for the next generation, what do you think would absolutely need to be a part of it?

Yeah, that was a bit of a can of worms.

There were as many answers as there were people in the conversation, and many of the responses were necessarily informed by the idiosyncrasies of our own MLS program. But I can tell you what my answer was:

In my fantasy library school, every MLS granted would require demonstrated proficiency in a hard technical skill. Coding, database admin, network admin, multimedia production, etc. — not just a little dabbling in web design or knowing how to secure a wifi network, but some serious skills. And I mean every MLS, from the archivist to the youth services librarian. From now on, “librarian” also implies “geek,” and everybody’s got to earn their badge. You may never use it, but just like high school algebra, you still gotta learn it.

C’mon, this is probably really fun!

Given that opinion, I think a lot of my cohort would be glad that I’m not the one designing their MLS program. This term we’ve been taking our standard required technology class, and the general consensus in the room seems to be that technology is cool, but it’s something that other people actually create and manage. We make ample use of the fruits of their labor, but we don’t grow our own. And I can absolutely relate to that — I learned how to program in BASIC when I was a kid, and I stumbled through an A+ certification a few years back, but I have never considered myself a potential coder, and in spite of my ongoing efforts to learn programming in Javascript and Python, I still don’t. We librarians, we love information, but on the whole we prefer to stick to the softer, fuzzier side of IT. We’re humanities people, most of us, not computer scientists.

But that needs to change. We talk at great length about how vital we are in this information age, but just our saying so isn’t going to convince the rest of the world. We have to be able to back up our words with concrete action, and to do that, we need to know that we collectively possess the skills necessary to implement our ideas without relying on others to do our geek work for us. What would librarianship look like if we all understood how our ILS is constructed, and how to build and adapt it to our library’s specific needs?Or if we all could be actively involved in building public wifi networks in our cities and towns? Or if we all felt confident enough with technology to start hackerspaces in our communities? And what better time to start learning those skills, if we haven’t already, than in library school? Some schools already offer higher-level technology instruction, but many — like mine — still don’t.

This is hard stuff for a lot of us, hard to imagine and harder still to do. But I think these are the sorts of skill that are becoming imperative for us as librarians to possess, and that without them we risk permanent irrelevance. So my hypothetical dream library school would be teaching them from the first term as a required course, and not calling any student “librarian” without them.

But that’s just me. Do you think we need a more rigorous technology requirement for the MLS? What would you do with your perfect library school? Leave a comment!

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§ 50 Responses to Librarian By Name, Geek By Nature

  • knokestaggs says:

    Well said, Amy! I am woefully lacking in that area and wish I was more up on all the skills you mentioned.

  • I wish you designed my MLS program! I definitely agree with having solid tech knowledge and experience. I’m frustrated by the lack of tech-focused classes in my program, and I don’t have enough time or money to take classes in the Computer Science dept. Our Information Technology class was mostly math plus a little HTML and CSS hand coding. My own knowledge is pretty basic, but I’m always trying to improve.

  • Andromeda says:

    You know what? Here’s a thing. I constantly don’t consider myself a coder. I mean, yeah, I played with some basic as a kid, and I took C++ in college and some SQL in library school, and I’ve taught myself the rudiments of perl and Python and jQuery here and there, and I wrote a lot of the front end and a bit of the back end of my company’s site, but, I mean, I’m not a coder. Coders are…those people who know how to use all those technologies they mention that I don’t know how to use, right? Coders are people like my husband, who’s a software engineer who’s programmed in more than 40 languages over the last 20 years? You know.

    And you can hear as I say this how dumb this is. Here’s the thing: we can always find people who make us feel inadequate as coders. Sometimes it’s genuinely because they’ve forgotten more code than we’re ever likely to know, but most of the time? They know things we don’t because code is big. No one knows all of it. I got nothing if you wanna talk about Heroku or Blacklight or node.js…but sometimes people ask me about CSS and Python…

    Maybe it doesn’t mean we can’t do this. Aren’t already doing this.

    Here’s a great realization I had at Midwinter: yeah, there are parts of the dominant code culture that always want to, well, measure their penises, prove how much more they know than you. And that’s a big reason I didn’t major in CS (despite going to an engineering school during the dot-com boom). But libraryland isn’t like that. In libraries, people — mirabile dictu! — appear to value me, not for how much I can prove, but for what I have to contribute.

    So. You have something to contribute. Start there. Keep going.

    I hope I’ll see you in the LITA/ALCTS Library Code Year interest group (http://connect.ala.org/node/167971) or the #code4lib IRC channel (http://code4lib.org/irc/). Come on in. The water’s fine.

    • Rebecca Halpern says:

      Well said! I think you’re right–I took two one-semester courses in HTML/CSS/JavaScript and PHP respectively, but am quite confident that I know enough to do basically nothing. But I helped design a custom stats tracking app for the library using my next-to-nothing knowledge and it helped. It helped! As librarians, we can all agree that knowing something is better than nothing, right?

    • Amy Frazier says:

      As it happens, just yesterday I sat down with some Javascript exercises, started typing, and for the first time ever, functional code came out. :) It was pretty elementary stuff, but I was psyched… maybe I actually CAN do this!

      I think the ultimate point is not even so much to become coders — although I’m all for people doing that — as to get to a point where we feel, individually and collectively, that this is something that we can actively participate in. One of the big raisons d’etre of librarianship is creating access, and I’m sure any of us would tell the patrons we serve that yes, they can participate in the technology culture too! But wouldn’t we be in a better position to do that if we also really felt empowered to do so as well?

      • Andromeda says:

        *g* Isn’t it nice having the power to rebuild the universe? Really it’s exactly what you say — as far as I’m concerned, code is about empowerment more than anything else.

  • Jake says:

    If most or all Masters of Library (and Information) Science programs are going to do this, they’re going to have to exercise more (meaning some) quality control on who they accept into said programs, because it’s difficult to get people up to speed on coding, or other “high-level” skills in one or two years. I suspect most programs will not do this. So until then, there’s codeyear; there’s books that end with “Dummies;” there’s you and your friends getting together in spare time, learning side by (perhaps virtual) side.

    • Amy Frazier says:

      I think you’re right — I can imagine how many of my cohort would not be in library school if there were a strong technical requirement. And in many cases that would be a real loss, so I definitely see the counterpoint implicit in your argument. At the same time, there’s a part of me thinks that the field as a whole would benefit from more rigorous admissions standards at the educational level.

    • Trenton says:

      I agree that there’s a steep learning curve with programming, databases, systems design, etc.–especially the conceptual level of putting it all together into a full-blown website or database (and this coming from what I’ve learned in my spare time, no formal training). But it seems that if library programs were to require only minimum core requirements (cataloging, reference, management, collection development) and offer a full-blown web programming track or network adminstration track along side, then maybe they could offer some decent education and skills in this area. I finished my MLIS seven years ago, and only took an HTML course at the time, but even then I could have taken JavaScript and PHP/MySQL but didn’t. Oh how I wish I had…but there are the books and codeyear, yes, and there’s also lynda.com. Anybody else been there? I’m going to give it a try.

  • Nicole Fonsh says:

    Great post Amy and definitely good food for thought. I took a Technology for Info Professionals course at Simmons that was, at the time in 2009, a required course for graduation. Which would make you think and/or hope that each course would have similar material even if the teachers had different styles. Well you would be wrong to think that. Everyone learned entirely different things and in my class it was SO much theory about technology that I felt the entire semester just trying to understand what my professor was talking about.

    I think much of the problem came from the fact that each person in the class was coming from a very different place in terms of technology understanding and experience. I myself had NO experience with coding, HTML, CSS, etc. And after the course I still felt that I had no experience. It was rather frustrating. Which is why I made myself take a Web Development class that was FANTASTIC (thank you Linda Braun!). But I still feel like my skills are lacking in understanding the language behind a lot of what we do.

    Like Andromeda mentioned, people are what I like about this profession. But I also know I LOVE finding stuff and that I know I need to get better at maybe learning the science behind how everything magically “comes” to me. If that makes sense. Which is why I’ve been convinced by those on Twitter to buckle down and take an Intro to Computer Science course in the fall, especially as this is one of the great benefits of working at a university, cheap/practically free tuition. Maybe I’ll hate it, maybe I’ll love it, maybe I’ll be somewhere in between. But at least I will be able to straddle the worlds a bit more than I feel I am able to now.

    • Amy Frazier says:

      My classmates and I are currently wrapping up a similar Technology for Information Professionals course, and I know that I for one feel exactly the same as you: this is great, but we’re all only learning small aspects of the larger subject, and missing out on a whole lot more. On the one hand, I get that this is just part of the limitations of this sort of educational structure — our instructor has been great, and has encouraged us to take the coursework in directions that are important to us personally. But when I’m spending all this time on classwork, and then cracking open a book on Python and doing extra work just so I feel lukewarm-ishly compentent, I can’t help but feel that something in my education is falling short.

      On the other hand, as I was discussing with a classmate the other day, maybe this “go out and learn it yourself” thing IS good preparation for our careers. It’s not like we were ever going to leave library school knowing everything anyway, and constant, continuing education and self-education is always going to be part of the job, especially where technology is concerned. Maybe on some level, it’s just as well that we get into the habit now, while we’re just starting out.

  • jbfink says:

    Good ideas here! I would hasten to add that there’s a whole spectrum of IT skills that are applicable to librarianship and it would be a Good Thing to be cognizant of them — in my own example, if I went to the nearby library school now I would have a hard time of it as they apparently define “tech skills” as Microsoft Access and SQL Server; both techs I have never used and, more importantly, never *seen* used in any academic library I’ve worked at.

    But there’s a real danger of setting the bar too low in an effort to be inclusive, and I’m not sure how to fix that.

    • Amy Frazier says:

      Absolutely, and I don’t mean to imply that ONLY coding or ONLY higher-level systems-admin type stuff count. There’s a whole world of technical knowledge, and I’d love to see any and all of it brought more formally into the library. But I think wherever that bar lands, it always needs to stay a few notches above the typical knowledge level of our patron base, and I think maybe we’re not keeping up with that standard so well at the moment.

  • Hm. I’m actually a little skeptical about how much coding know-how is all that useful for most library positions. I am the front-end librarian in a big library, and I’m really one of two or three librarians who actually get to muck with the code. While many of my colleagues here came out of their i-school with some HTML/CSS familiarity, they’re really hemmed in by all the different kinds of content frameworks we use – like libguides or wordpress or drupal. Is the kind of web code you need to know to edit content worth the cost of your college credits?

    It’s probably like learning a language that, in all honesty, you probably won’t use if you’re not a systems librarian. The coding environment changes soooo rapidly, too, that if you’re not a super geek and doing this on the side or full-time in your position, you’ll lose it anyway.

    Whether or not you took some coding classes in library school definitely do not effect your relevancy or CURRENCY as a librarian Just knowing some code won’t mean you’re more employable as, say, an instructional librarian. You know?

    Learn to code if coding is what you want to do. There are so many different flavors of librarianship that you should do what you’re interested in and you’ll be as relevant and current as you need to be.

    • Amy Frazier says:

      I basically agree with you, and I absolutely don’t mean to suggest that every librarian should be involved in their library’s systems — I would never inflict that extra stress on the long-suffering systems librarians of the world. :) But here are a couple of hypotheticals to consider:

      Recently in class we were talking about open-source ILS — Evergreen, Koha, etc. — and the problems associated with them. We looked at some examples and had a couple of systems librarians come to answer questions, and a couple of major issues emerged:

      1) Library staff typically don’t have the technical skill to successfully implement and maintain an open-source ILS without support from a separate vendor, so they can’t realize the potential cost benefits of an open-source solution. So many choose to go with a proprietary system instead, even when they wish they could go open-source, for both budgetary and philosophical reasons.

      2) Open-source ILS software is not as developed as a lot of proprietary software, which likely comes down to the relatively small base of coders working on those projects. We know that open-source software can be wildly successful, but in this instance it’s not, because there aren’t enough people actively working to make it better and more usable.

      Now, imagine if we had more people — twice as many, three times as many — who a) understood libraries and library work; b) understood what an ILS looks like when it’s working well, and what it looks like when it’s not; and c) had the skills and the interest to participate in the process of developing these applications? What would open-source ILS software look like then? And how many more options would libraries have if they knew the software worked, and that the staff they already had themselves had the skills and experience to make such a system a viable option?

      Or a smaller case: let’s say a youth services librarian has a great idea for a smartphone app for her teen patrons. At the moment, for the great majority of us, the available options are:

      - hope that someone has already made an app that does what she wants it to do, and that it’s available for her library to use
      - go find someone to create her app for her
      - give up on having that app

      But if she had some coding work under her belt, even if she’d never built an app like that before, she’d at least have a basic understanding of the processes involved, how programming works, and the right questions to ask to get started. And she’d know that coding is something that she can do, even if this particular project is new territory. She might not do the whole project herself, but she’d have enough knowledge to see how she might go about it, even if only to knock together a little prototype. So many more possibilities!

      Anyway, that was a gratuitously long reply, but I feel really strongly about this! And if I can convince the systems librarians that this is a good idea, I’d feel like I really got my point across. :)

  • Definitely food for thought. Not all librarians will need to do any kind of coding on the job – but all librarians need to be able to communicate with the folks who do that kind of thing, and to do that, it helps to be able to speak their language a bit and understand how those thought processes work. If nothing else, a little bit of familiarity means that you’ll be able to submit better and more helpful problem reports to your IT department (“This page is throwing an SQL error” as opposed to “I don’t know, there’s some kind of error message?”).

    Two things I’d add to the MLS curriculum for sure: project management, and assessment (including, but definitely not limited to, usability testing). Those are crucial skills and they are skills many of us have had to learn on the job.

  • I don’t think that every LIS student “needs” to be a coder or technology master. But “What would librarianship look like if we all understood how our ILS is constructed, and how to build and adapt it to our library’s specific needs?” is a wonderful question. The LIS curriculum may not need to make every student into a db developer. But it should certainly provide a LIS student with an understanding of the back-end part of the tools the library uses everyday and depends on.

    Achieving this doesn’t require the curriculum overhaul. (Nor is it require a student becoming proficient in computer programming or the less soft and fuzzy kinds of technology.) But as soon as someone starts to think that this is “just as important as” one of those mandatory LIS classes such as cataloging or evaluation/assessment, the whole framework of the current LIS curriculum can become controversial. There is something to think about there.

    Another thing to think about is how to create a culture and an environment where people can pursue these interests in programming/coding (plus what you call the less soft and fuzzy kinds of technology) and develop those skills in the context of libraries. Unfortunately, the LIS schools and the libraries as workplaces are both lacking in creating such a culture/environment. It is particularly sad to see how libraries are so failing to take advantage of the library staff who ‘want to’ learn and apply such technology often on their own time and at their own expenses, while libraries try to become more and more tech-savvy as an organization.

    I wrote about this a while ago thinking that maybe it will help libraries see this irony and take some actions to change that. But instead, many comments that I received made me realize that this is a way more complicated topic than I thought it was. If you are interested, check out the comments in this post: http://www.bohyunkim.net/blog/archives/1099

    • Amy Frazier says:

      Yes, yes, yes. And I have no doubt that there are whole aspects of this that I still fail to grasp… that’s part of why I love this discussion!

      But I would really like to see a world where the library’s problem is having an overabundance of technical skills among their staff. I’d love to see a world where the core assumption among librarians was not “we love information and technology, but we don’t really do that ourselves,” and was instead “we love information and technology, and we absolutely do that ourselves!”

      That was a great post, by the way. I really dug it.

  • Alright, alright, you’ve roped me in. I think you’re getting at the heart of what this here bloggy blog was meant to be. Lets not talk about reform, or what could be, but lets reform and do something. I tell you what, if we had the skills to imagine, build, and maintain our own ILS, we’d be a hell of a lot less dependent on 3rd party vendors and could reinvest our shrinking budgets in developing resources that actually serve our communities specific needs, not those dictated to us by what the product options are at the time.

    I remember having similar conversations with my “cohort” (which just happened to be the founding writers/editors of HackLibSchool) and we proceeded to write about it and get some attention. But… not much has changed. Administrators of Library Schools haven’t listened. They’re too busy to read blogs. So, if you really want to “design your own MLIS program from scratch,” if that’s a real priority for dissatisfied LIS students right now (aside from getting a job, and paying off student loans), you’ll have to take the conversation to their house – ALISE.

    I’m joining and plan to stir things up. Will report back.

    • Amy Frazier says:

      I think sooner or later, either this evolutionary leap will be made, or librarianship as a vocation will eventually be replaced by something else. I am completely sympathetic to the anxiety that seems to always come up when we talk about doing this harder technical work, but I think it’s ultimately unavoidable — the world is becoming far more technical, will only continue to become so, and so we have to become more technical as well. As it is today, we’d be more effective advocates for ourselves and our patrons if we had these skill sets in our various organizations and institutions. And in the long-term, if we concede this ground, we’ll ultimately only undermine our own interests. The dependence on others to do this work IS an issue.

      I’m really looking forward to hearing about these new adventures, Micah — blaze a trail, and I’m sure a lot of us will follow. :)

  • Cynthia says:

    Great food for thought. I definitely agree that most schools could use at least one or two more tech classes or better support students to find these classes outside of the department. (Of course, then I had the difficulty that most classes assume you already have a programming background.)

    I really appreciated that our school recognized the need and started to introduce more tech related classes as electives, but I definitely could have used more.

    The main problem is that many people in library school are willing to learn how to use technology (mostly as a necessity), but have no interest in learning coding and the like. Trying to cater to the diversity of skills and interests in such a broad area as LIS can be a rather large hurdle.

    Perhaps it’s a matter of students doing some research ahead of time to find out what schools offer tech streams. Maybe library schools could offer a couple more electives and/or partner with other departments for library students to get credit for taking beginner classes (I could have taken 100/200 level classes in programming, but would have gotten no credit for it).

    In terms of making a tech class required for all MLIS students, perhaps the best is to simply introduce generally how tech works. We had a course which was dubbed “systems librarianship 101″ and while we had to play with the ILS and do an analysis, no tech skills were really required. At the end of the course, I think even non-tech students had a new appreciation for how many systems worked and the number of pieces required to make it all happen. This is the sort of class I would like to see required, so that more people will at least understand the so-called “magic” that happens to make technology work. (In contrast to our required technology course, which in my opinion was too theoretical and didn’t put the practical assignments of making a powerpoint, website, and blog firmly into the library/IS scenario.)

    … I may just have to turn this into my own blog post.

  • lyndamk says:

    Thanks for starting the discussion!

    As someone who hires MLIS students, my ideal library program would emphasize teaching, both pedagogical theory and the practice of teaching. In my library world that is the skill that matters most and I wish library schools would place greater emphasis on learning the skill set (and not just throwing people into the classroom). If you can’t teach and can’t teach well, then my jobs aren’t for you.

    I wonder if these programs could do a better job of tracking. Get rid of the traditional academic v. public v. whatever tracks and focus on the skill set tracks that are needed depending on whether you are plan to be primarily public services versus back-end creators. Students could also overlap classes, but they have a rigorous foundation in one area. Just a thought.

    • Alesia McManus says:

      I am a library director at a community college and I agree that understanding how pedagogical theory and the practice of teaching can be applied using instructional technology is a key skill. At our college, student learning and success is paramount so our main priority is to partner with faculty as they design their courses (F2F, hybrid, online) to incorporate learning outcomes associated with information literacy and critical thinking. We also help develop assignments and other pedagogical content to help students achieve the desired outcomes. Comfort with and willingness to use technology is important but instructional design is even more so. As Anne mentioned in a comment above, we need to understand technology concepts and vocabulary so we can work effectively with those who have the coding skills. Also, on a practical level, we aren’t building/coding the tools from scratch. Usually we’re using vendor software and technology so our expertise is focused on information literacy and access to content that supports learning. I don’t want to undervalue the importance of providing a good user experience for students as they search and discover but, at the end of the day, it’s what they learn and how to apply it that is most important.

    • Amy Frazier says:

      That’s another great one! I’ve done a decent amount of teaching in a past career, but was never formally trained, so I’m in a weird spot where I feel like I’m better at it than a lot of people, but nowhere near as good at it as I could/should be. Alas, the structure of my MLS program is such that I likely won’t get much more training in that — there just aren’t enough credits to go around. But if I were building my own perfect library school, I’m absolutely with you on that one: teaching has to be part of it.

  • I think requiring more tech skills — real, quantifiable, demonstrable tech skills — would be excellent. I think a lot more would get done if there were more people capable of doing it themselves. Plus, even if you yourself do not have the permissions to do this/that, having the background makes it harder for the IT folks to pull the wool over your eyes about what can/can’t be done.

  • [...] no longer in school, FYI) tackled the essential and perhaps unanswerable question of “Does LIS Education Need More Tech?” What they say in this post is nothing new; it’s a question long debated in LIS education, [...]

  • librariankate7578 says:

    Here’s my response, similar to that of Bohyun and Michael: http://librariankate7578.com/2012/07/11/the-hack-lib-sc/

  • littlemisslibraryjenn says:

    Honestly, I would hate it if I was required to take more tech classes for my MLS. I’m glad I have basic technology skills, but I really don’t think I need more. I’m going into teen services. I think what the MLS degree is lacking most is teaching customer service skills. Librarians need to be able to interact with the public. They need to be good speakers and good teachers, and I feel this is very under-addressed within the MLS schooling.

    • lyndamk says:

      Amen!

    • Amy Frazier says:

      Oh yes, customer service for sure! I think I tend to overlook this one, since I know a LOT of librarians who did time in retail hell and thus learned their customer service skills “on the street,” as it were. And to be honest, I wonder whether customer service is even something you can meaningfully teach in an academic program — it’s so much about practice and experience. On the other hand, the same is true of reference, and they’re still teaching that in my program. :)

      But yes, absolutely, customer service is 100% necessary.

  • This is something I’ve been thinking over quite a bit, as I prepare to start library school and think about what kind of tech skills I want to develop while I’m there. I absolutely agree with what others have said about understanding tech at least enough to articulate what you need, or what’s going wrong.

    I *do* think that if there were more librarians with hard tech skills–or computer scientists with a grounding in library theory/practices–we could, as a profession, use technology more efficiently and build bigger and better things. The problem is, how do we find/create people with those backgrounds? If I were really interested in coding, why wouldn’t I just get an MS in comp sci? What in the traditional LIS curriculum gets jettisoned for coding classes? Or do we just make library school longer? (I would be in favor of this, actually, but not everyone would.)

    • Andromeda says:

      As for creating people with those backgrounds, well, that’s sort of why I cofounded the Library Code Year interest group :)

      I think there are surprising pockets of library awareness in the CS world — I mean, Google is a citation index, and I’ve seen Ranganathan on a software VP’s bookshelf — but overall the cultures are very, very dissimilar.

      There’s a smattering of librarians with STEM backgrounds (myself included) — but again, librarianship can be a pretty huge culture clash for us. And anyone with a STEM background could be in software making easily 2-3 times what libraries pay, so…you have to really love libraries to go that route. I think practically speaking it’ll be easier for us to grow our own than to recruit from people with STEM backgrounds.

      Which isn’t to say it’ll be easy — that’ll require a lot of work to protect librarians’ time for code learning, to support them with resources, to encourage collaboration on technology projects with librarians at other institutions and with nonlibrarians — but I still think it’ll be easier than convincing significant numbers of people to get an MLS and work in libraries when they could be making $60K straight out of college (average starting salaries for people with CS-related undergrad degrees are in this range).

      This won’t generally produce people with the same *kinds* of coding skills as a software engineer, but the set of coding skills librarians use is pretty different anyway.

  • I’m going to take a different tack here, and suggest that what LIS students need even more than coding courses are budget (especially related to grant-writing), public speaking, advocacy, and management skills.

    Coding languages are changing constantly, and given the fact that most LIS students are paying for their degree as they go with loans or out of pocket (as opposed to getting a full ride with assistantships), I’m not sure the cost per credit for coding classes makes a lot of economic sense. That said, almost every librarian, even if s/he is not “in charge” of the budget, will have to understand how to speak to their boss/deans/boards/city council about money issues when necessary (even if it’s just to write a memo justifying a purchase order). Since it looks like the “Why do you need libraries when we have Google?” trope is not dying out anytime soon, librarians NEED to be able to speak to the public in ways that demonstrate our continued relevance to society. I really wish library schools put a larger emphasis on learning how to speak with decision makers (legislators, deans, CFOs, donors, whatever), and also how to effectively manage employees. Librarianship is not going to cease being a people-oriented profession anytime soon, but we desperately need the people and money skills to fight for our continued survival and relevance in “the age of austerity.”

  • Andromeda says:

    In re tech skills going rapidly out of date:

    It’s true. They do. I think library school tech instruction thus needs to be more about concept than procedure — you needs to go through the procedures to understand the concepts, but also accept that the details are going to change. Part of being technologically competent is being able to roll with those changes.

    Again about the software industry — it’s expected that you’ll program in languages you’ve never seen before. People can and do hire people at, e.g., a Python shop who’ve never programmed in Python before — they just figure, if you’re generally competent at programming languages, you’ll pick up the specifics of Python pretty fast.

    And in my experience this is true; while there can be dramatic conceptual differences among programming languages, the ones in common use aren’t that different. They’re all going to have if conditions and for loops and lists and variables and so forth. It’s more a matter of “ohhhh, today I’m using JavaScript so I’d better remember about all the parentheses and semicolons, and tomorrow when I’m using Python I gotta remember about the whitespace.” You can always look up the specific syntactic differences if you need to.

    So, yes. A library tech course about “here’s how you do Javascript,” only mildly useful. One about “here’s how you code, and Javascript is the tool we happen to be using”? Much more realistic.

  • [...] Librarian by Name, Geek by Nature [...]

  • As someone on the tech-y/information science end of LIS, I really wish that LIS programs were more supportive of those of us who want to take heavy tech classes. In my program, we really have to go out of the department to learn anything other than a bit of XML, HTML, and database admin.

    That said, I don’t think that everyone in my LIS program needs to know how to program but they do need to be comfortable with technology and know how to give our patrons the tech they need. Even the smallest library in the middle of nowhere has to have technologically competent librarians because that library may be the only source of internet, etc. for some of its patrons.

    While its important to understand and recognize the roots of librarianship in books and the card catalog, as a profession we can’t ignore the fact that the future is digital. So I agree with the author of this post that perhaps we should push more LIS students into the tech courses.

  • Gem says:

    I agree with Andromeda that when library schools teach technology topics, it should be aimed at learning concepts, not specific skills. Also, it’s popular to suggest learning a programming language. However, the basic mechanics of IT are probably more important, like backups. It doesn’t matter how flashy your discovery layer is if the backend database went poof and you have no backups (I know, it doesn’t sound likely but I’ve heard of cases where libraries lost everything due to thinking they had backups only to discover they didn’t).

    If we want more tech skills in librarians, we should train them up earlier than grad school. We should tell our high school pages that if they want to be a librarian, they should consider an IT/CS degree in college. When I decided I wanted to become a librarian everyone, including several librarians, assumed I’d take English as a major in college. They were shocked when I told them I was a CS major.

    Or, for existing staff, how about supplying tuition reimbursement if they get a computer-related degree. My district offers reimbursement for an MLS but maybe they should specifically offer reimbursement for computer-related degrees also.

  • [...] do not require even a single technology course, of any kind? (How many library-school students still think such training is optional? That, too, is a failure of education.) How many vapors would be vapored in the hallowed halls of [...]

  • mclicious says:

    Simmons is redesigning its core (currently five required classes–management, organization of information, technology for info professionals, reference, and evaluation of info services), and while I’m sad that I won’t be able to benefit from their reassessment, I do think it’s about time. Much as I’m scared of coding and stuff, I do think I really need to learn how to do it, so your suggestion is a good one, and I’m sure I’ll get out of my tech course next semester being happy it’s over but also being happy with the skills i’ll have acquired.

    That said, I really wish library schools required a foundational liberal arts course. I’ve been astonished by a) the lack of good writing skills my peers have, b) the lack of interest in participating in classes like they’re a seminar, and c) the lack of awareness of major theories in feminism, sociology, critical race theory, etc. I know this partly comes out of the fact that I’m in my campus PLG and because I’m getting a second degree in literature that requires knowledge of this stuff, but since the invisible part of the MSLIS acronym is, in my opinion, “service,” I think it would really be a good thing for all library students to take some sort of intro to great ideas class, or simply to be required to take one graduate-level class in a different department, like history, anthropology, or sociology, just to remind people that it’s not a theoretical degree but a practical one, and yet, paradoxically, being good at practical things often requires understanding theories about real people, which is something liberal arts does really well.

  • Dead Sea Kit says:

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  • [...] Librarian By Name, Geek By Nature [...]

  • [...] past summer, Amy Frazier wrote a post on the Hack Library School blog called “Librarian by Name, Geek by Nature.” The post itself deals with the idea of what is taught/learned in Library and Information [...]

  • Jenny says:

    Great blog post and great discussion in the comments. I agree with those other Simmons students who pointed out that (a) the quality and content of Technology for Information Professionals varies depending on who’s teaching, and (b) it would be great if there was a “technology track” (I’m pretty sure they’re working on this right now, actually).

    Overall what comes out in this post and the comments is that librarians’ desire to learn is strong. I’ve echoed this post on my own blog here: http://jenny-arch.com/2012/11/21/librarian-by-name/

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    This application solves one of the major issues with the i
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