It's interesting that computer literacy in general used to mean programming
and today means word processing and spreadsheets. When I was in high school
in the lovely years of Reaganomics and fear of nuclear war, my Intro to Data
Processing class was all about learning to program BASIC on good ol'
TRS-80s. Today, the same class and same teacher are all about learning
Microsoft Office and how to surf the web.
In library school, I took a class called "Advanced Automation" which was an
introduction to programming simple (very simple) library applications using
Turbo Pascal. It was a lot of fun, a bunch of graduate students with no
prerequisite knowledge learning the very basics of programming in a very
simple language. But what did I actually get out of the class? Am I
developing major applications today using Turbo Pascal? Of course not! But
like Carol Bean pointed out, even minimal exposure gives you experience with
the culture and terminology. I tend to think that the same was true with my
Data Processing class in the 80s: most of the students left that class and
never wrote another program, but it (hopefully) influenced how they viewed
the programs they ended up using. Most librarians I know are heavily
dependent on computers for their daily job. Most have neither the time nor
desire to become computer programmers. However, IMHO, most would make
better decisions about technology (from purchases to troubleshooting their
workstations) and be better able to communicate with IT departments and
automation vendors if they had a little bit of that "computer programming as
computer literacy" background.
How important should programming be for a typical librarian's job (whatever
that is!)? Probably important enough to understand the creation and
functioning of the technological infrastructure that supports our
What I wonder is whether library schools should offer more courses that
allow students to take some pretty hard programming electives (maybe
"LIS590: Object Oriented Design for ILS Development")? If a person went to
library school and took almost exclusively programming and technology
courses (except for a required "Intro to Librarianship" survey course), in
what sense would she or he be a librarian rather than a computer programmer
who happened to get their degree from library school? Or, put another way,
when I show the IT people here the curricula from library schools, they
shake their head and say "that's MIS" or "aren't those CS courses?" How
much of time in an LIS curriculum to train librarians can be spent on "IS"
rather than "LS"?
Lincoln Christian College and Seminary
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