To learn programming or not? That is the question.

Last night I attended this Geek Speed Dating Night (minus the dating part) eventHeart, put together by a group called Refresh Indy. They describe themselves as “Promoting design, technology and usability, Refresh Indy is a part of the Refreshing Cities movement.” Sounds pretty cool and applicable to libraries right? I should probably back it up and explain how this Geek Night works. I got there with my library school friend (who writes at Red Lipstick Librarian) and my boyfriend (who was a web developer in a previous life). There were several round tables set up and other web developers, programmers and designers milling about. Then we all had 30 minutes at any given table to talk about topics like social media and marketing, iOS development, web design and development with these experts. It was a very low-key informal event that allowed for casual conversation on these topics.

I went into this hoping to learn about what’s going on in the web development world and wanted to see if I could bring some of what I learned into the library field. I have to say, it’s different when you work for a non-profit agency and you’re listening to marketing skills for someone with a personal business. Additionally, the only web skills I have are html and css. The first person we spoke to develops apps for iOS and I was in over my head, not to mention many of the experts leading the discussions had background knowledge in programming. I do not know how to program, I have a super basic knowledge of how it works, so at times I felt lost.

However, it was actually pretty awesome to get outside of the LIS field and see what others do. These are people who are creating web apps, building websites, they’re on the forefront of technology. There was a difference and a wake up call for me, coming from the library field. How many times have you heard the words social media and marketing or web development in the library world? I’ve heard it tossed around many times, but if you take those ideas outside of LIS, there are different trends that are emerging that libraries SHOULD be paying attention to. For example, someone was talking about how businesses don’t use social media correctly, that we have not utilized its full potential. Businesses try to tailor everything to the user based on what websites they’ve looked at, try to sell them products based on past user trends; but the users are actually using social media differently. People are more apt to purchase something if their friends recommend it, and where the real magic happens is the interaction between the people, not the business dictating what you should buy. In education, that’s called active learning, where peers are engaging with each other, exchanging information and learning in a proactive way, as opposed to passive learning. Can libraries implement this in their own marketing techniques or in other ways? Yes! I don’t have all the answers, but I just want to point out that the internet is a very helpful forum that allows for active learning to happen.

At the end of the night, I had to ask myself “is programming something that librarians should know?” My boyfriend mentioned that librarians shouldn’t have to know how to do these things but rather, work with programmers to develop the tools that we need for our own crowd. Having a familiarity with programming languages would definitely be a plus, also it would help to focus what you want out of whatever project you are working on. I think it’s quite normal for libraries to outsource this work to the IT departments, since many librarians do not have these skills. In light of people thinking that libraries should be hiring more IT professionals instead of MLIS librarians, it might be a good idea for library/ information professionals to learn about programming and web development. I’m interested in digital libraries, so this may be something I should become familiar with; whether I use it in my future profession or not.

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6 thoughts on “To learn programming or not? That is the question.

  1. That’s a really cool event! I am also very interested in digital libraries/web services, so I have been exploring skills that I should work on. There’s so much! I subscribe to the code4lib and web4lib listservs as a way to see what other people are talking about, but it’s hard not to get overwhelmed. Now that I’m close to graduation, I’m making lists of things to teach myself (which will eventually be blogged haha).

  2. I don’t think that librarians should learn to program on a large scale basis because programming is a skill best left to professionals. Though there are some librarians who’ve picked up programming skills, unless you want to go full bore and get a CS degree and actually devote your career to it, you’ll be more of a dilettante.

    How would you feel if programmers picked up a bit of this “library stuff” and started calling themselves librarians?

    I think it’s much more important for librarians to become aware of the skill sets of programmers and what they actually do and how those skills can be managed for the benefit of library services than to “pick up some coding on the side.”

    A good programmer and a knowledgeable librarian are a potent team. Library service has suffered from the dual evils of “librarians trying to be programmers/computer scientists” and “Computer scientists/programmers trying to be librarians.” Let’s build the appropriate teams. If that means fewer MLS and more CS people on staff rosters, so be it.

  3. Hm I don’t think it’s necessary to know programming, but it can be helpful to be familiar. I took a PHP class and it was very interesting but I can’t say I could actually apply my very basic knowledge. Though now if I am collaborating with a programmer on something like the back end of libguides or anything else I have a vague idea of how it works and we might be able to work better together.

  4. Sounds like a pretty awesome evening! I once attended InfoCamp Seattle – a unconference organized around the topic of user experience. it was probably 40% librarians and 60% web designers, programmers, online marketers, etc. It was fascinating having the two groups mix. A lot of great ideas were shared, and new perspectives were introduced. I hope we see more mixture of the tech and library industries!!

  5. I tend to agree with Martin. Some uber-tech people have carved out niches for themselves as techies in librarian shoes. And that’s great. But I’ve seen nothing yet to convince me that this type of hybrid librarian is more than marginal. In other fields, people leave IT to those with CS degrees. Some familiarity with each other’s work makes for a tighter ship, for sure. But for the most part, it’s apples and oranges.

  6. Pingback: Hello, World « thelovableelitist

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