Hi. My name is Rob. I'm not a librarian, but I have worked in libraries for
about ten years. (Everyone replies "Hi Rob!").
I'm going to step out on a limb here, but my boss won't be surprised at my
doing this. ;-)
Should librarians be programmers? Turning the question around: can someone
be a good librarian and not have programming skills? I know many (even
young librarians fresh out of the MLS/MIS hopper) who are excellent
librarians and couldn't program a line of code if their lives depended on
it. 'Should' seems to imply a necessity, and there doesn't seem to be an
Having said that, I have an enormous respect for what both computer
scientists and librarians do. I wouldn't have spent the majority of my
employed years in libraries if I didn't. Librarians are required to master
a large set of skills and in many cases be subject specialists in areas
that have little to do with pure librarianship. For example, a librarian
may also be a historian, a professional philosopher or a lawyer which
require other advanced degrees. This is an enormous asset to their work and
is beneficial to patrons of library collections (regardless of whether or
not those collections are on digital, audio, visual or paper media). I've
never met a librarian who was a master reference librarian in a given
subject area, knew everything there was to know about bibliographic support
about that subject area and others, and was also an excellent programmer.
The amount of information to master in this case is considerable and one of
the three areas will suffer (as a former cataloger, I consider cataloging
to be a "specialty" area in librarianship requiring practically as much
detailed knowledge as someone who spends all of their time as a DBA).
As someone mentioned earlier, if a person was capable of mastering all of
those detailed and difficult areas of knowledge, would they be employed in
a library or somewhere else where they are likely to be justly compensated?
I know people (like myself) who are keenly interested in computer science
who want to apply that area of mastery to the work of librarianship and I
also know librarians who have spent enormous time mastering technology also
for the purpose of enriching their work in librarianship. In the same
regard, I know librarians who have specialized in areas like preservation,
archives, special collections, rare item cataloging, and subject areas.
However, I have never met a preservation specialist (or the like) who is
also a crack computer programmer and/or systems administrator. Possible,
but not very probable.
For good or bad, librarianship and computer technology are in a marriage
and if a person absolutely hates technology then entering into the library
profession now is probably not a good choice. But, in the same regard, and
as with other professional areas (such as medicine, law, engineering,
scientific research) it is probably unrealistic to expect to find most
librarians who are also experts at programming and other high tech
disciplines unless they choose to specialize in that area. It depends on
the professional goals of the individual and what their interests and
Now I'll hunker down and wait for the fallout. :-)
At 12:05 PM 12/10/2003 -0500, you wrote:
>To what degree do y'all think computer programming should be skill aspects
>Since the charter of this mailing lists states it purpose as "...to provide
>a forum for discussion of computer programming in the area of libraries and
>information science...", and since the code4lib mailing list now includes
>about seventy-five (75) subscribers, I thought I try to get things started.
>Computers are great tools for storing vast amounts of data/information.
>Combined with a network, computers are also great tools for
>sharing/communicating this information with other computers, and therefore
>Librarianship is (partially) about collecting, organizing, archiving,
>disseminating, and sometimes evaluating data/information/knowledge. These
>processes seem very similar to the sorts of processes computers can
>Why is it then that more librarians do not know how to create computer
>Eric Lease Morgan
>Head, Digital Access and Information Architecture Department
>University Libraries of Notre Dame
University Libraries of Notre Dame
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