Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Computer Programming for Librarians

 beech leaves

This post has been on a back burner for a while, but I remembered it when I read Will Manley's November 22 entry that developed into a discussion about what library school does and does not teach you.

Looking back, a library school course I would have taken in a heartbeat was "Computer Programming for Libraries." It would have been unrealistic to expect to learn programming from scratch, but it could have been an introduction to various languages, and there could have been a sandbox for trying out different projects, all related to libraries.

I would have loved to take this class for a variety of reasons. I know that systems change, but many of them are built using similar design principles and programming languages. In many instances in my career so far, a basic familiarity with some of the languages and applications would have been really helpful. I did take classes that covered database design and networks, and they have proven helpful but weren't enough.

People who have experience coding and then decide to go to library school are few and far between, and I would guess that most of my classmates would have found this course valuable too. From what I've seen, libraries that have computer programmers on staff tend to hold on to them tightly. A nice piece in Computers in Libraries back in June by Marshall Breeding covered a lot of this.

And I do realize I can learn basic programming on my own. Plenty of librarians teach themselves programming on the job. I know there are a variety of opportunities to roll up my sleeves and get my feet wet, and I know there are a lot of great online programming communities. Plus I did take an introductory programming class at the college where I worked a few years ago.

At the same time, I'm currently stretched thin at my job, and I'm not required or expected to do this. Usually by the time the thought "Gee, I bet this task could be automated with a clever computer program" crosses my mind, I'm already waist-deep into the project and don't have time to go down the rabbit hole of learning the fundamentals of C++, or Java, or PHP, or whatever that particular project would require. This is why I think "Computer Programming for Libraries" would have made a valuable library school class: Some exposure to library-related programming would have been a nice starting point for whatever project I find myself working on.

1 comment:

  1. I had a SQL class. It was lots of fun, and I think it helped me to think about how these things work in a more specific way, but I don't put it to practical use as much as, say, my web design class.

    But a broader array of programming skills would certainly be useful.