We’re All Techies Now

In some conversations I’ve been having outside the library recently, I was reminded of how the perception of librarians is still so far behind the reality.

It used to be that the technical skills of a librarian were more associated with arcane cataloging systems, grumpy OPACs and the like. Deep behind the scenes, there were some curious innovators who began applying their expertise in information organization and retrieval toward the digital realm. But this was the library underground.

But those tireless trendsetters, did actually lay the foundation for today’s techbrarian. By that, I mean the generally younger breed, who were attracted to the field as much by the cool factor of online tools and app development. These folks, of whom I count myself, were generally too general for computer science. Not that they didn’t do advanced math at some point in their education, but they tended toward liberal arts, while simultaneously finding fascination in how online technologies could be harnessed to improve the world.

Okay, enough with the history. Back to the disconnect between actual expertise and perceived expertise by the general public.

Today, a large number of MLIS holders (anyone got a number?), walk out of library school with varying web technologies under their belts. HTML and CSS are almost a given. Many also learn XML, JavaScript, PHP and even typical IT areas like database management and technology planning. This on top of all the basic information system and retrieval theory that has always underpinned the profession. In short, librarians are more and more a kind of IT professional lite, only with a much deeper understanding of library science.

I might add, that from my experience, if you’re currently in library school and haven’t explored the technology side, you’d be advised to do so before you finish school. If there is any future for libraries, it’s all going to be online. And unless you want to risk sitting in a static position, you better at least learn HTML and XML. In fact, the way things are trending, I’d say that my own level of skill will be inadequate in 10 years…not that I’m standing still!

But back to the central question: how to communicate these faculties to non-librarians. My only advice: speak often and speak fluently. It simply takes time and perseverance to move aside old attitudes. And when your patience runs thin, there’s always pointing to a rival institution where it’s understood that librarians are all techies now.

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