Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Computer Science & Librarianship

I often regret not studying computer science in college. I was at a school with an excellent program, I'm mathematically inclined, & I already had a little experience with BASIC so it would have made a lot of sense. Instead, I've ended up a techie librarian with a humanities degree who spends a lot of time working on the web, but has little formal training. This situation doesn't seem all that abnormal; web design courses were well-attended in my MLIS program & I constantly hear LIS student bemoan a lack of programming courses. Librarians are well aware that it's a "program or be programmed world" & we're working hard to become programmers. The number of librarians I see participating in #codeyear is one indicator. But also there are a number of open source library software packages, from the VuFind discovery layer to the LibStats reference tracking program, written by librarians.
So we're taking things into our own hands & I'd like to contribute more to that. On the one hand, being one of those rare librarians with a CS background would set me up to be a valuable professional. But on the other hand, would I have ended up a librarian if I majored in CS? Most likely not. I probably would've landed a real, salaried job out of college, instead of the meager hourly position I ended up in. My dismal post-collegiate years instilled a political will in me too, a will that drove me to librarianship and public service. In comparison, the start-ups run by young, talented CS students appear banal: more music recommendation algorithms, personalized finance software, social anything, web apps that replace desktop apps but aren't unique in the least. These are doubtless exciting projects from the inside, but I joined librarianship largely for the ideals & not the glory. In the end, I think I would prefer being at a job I believe in.
As an addendum, I've found quite a lot of coder librarians I look up to. They're exactly where I want to be. & you know what? They mostly have humanities backgrounds. Philosophy & English are startlingly common degrees for web services librarians. So maybe I made the right choice after all.

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