Technology skills for librarians

cropped-data.jpgTechnology skills and the ability to use various pieces of hardware and software are quickly becoming essential skills for most jobs and this is equally true for librarians. Every librarian needs a certain level of technical knowledge, whether we like it or not.

Need to know

Librarians working in more public facing roles still need to be able to show users how to use the online catalogue, how to check emails and browse the web. They will also need to be able to use certain features of their Integrated Library System (ILS) to check materials in and out and to create and update patron accounts. They may also need to be able to troubleshoot software problems or perform basic fixes on the printers or photocopiers.

Reference librarians will obviously need to be proficient at searching catalogues, databases and the internet. Cataloguers need to be comfortable with the cataloguing functions within the ILS and need to be familiar with online resources such as Library of Congress subject headings and authority lists.

Useful to know

Moving beyond the ‘need to know’ to the ‘would be useful to know’ is the ability to edit websites. Many librarians find themselves doing a bit of everything within their roles and the ability to understand, read and edit HTML and CSS is very useful. An understanding of Information Architecture will also help with designing useful and useable library websites.

For librarians who work with data XML looks similar to HTML and has become the best practice standard for how metadata is encoded. Metadata? Cataloguers will already be familiar with MARC21, but it is also important to understand the pros and cons of various metadata standards (Dublin Core, MODS, VRA Core), and be able to apply the most appropriate standard accurately to your data.

Data? Librarians also need to understand different file formats, the difference between .tiff and .jpg, .doc, .pdf and .txt. We need to be able to advise on preservation quality format for various different types of data. Librarians should be leading the digital preservation charge.

Linked Data is another really exciting area for librarians to get involved in. Librarians have been organising and connecting information for centuries and we will continue to do so. But to do so we need to be able to engage with the computer scientists and show them how it’s done.

And for librarians who really want to push the technology boat out the ability to program will give them a huge advantage. All library catalogues are giant relational databases, so SQL (pronounced Sequel, or so I’m told) is an incredibly useful querying language to learn. I asked my software engineer colleagues and they recommended javascript if you already know HTML and CSS, to really improve the library website. For librarians who are interested in getting started with programming they recommended Python or Ruby.

For many of us adding these skills to our arsenal requires a willingness to learn, an ability to upskill quickly and learn on the job. The following are just some resources that are available:

Jenny O’Neill