Should librarians learn to code?

That depends on what you mean by “code.” But knowing how to make computers do things is a useful skill, and as Robert Hernandez notes, “It’s not magic.”

One thing I love about librarians is their ability to look backward and forward, to preserve the past and enable the future. When I was in library school, the professor who taught us about the history of books and libraries also taught us how to build websites. We can do both. We can speak JavaScript right along with the languages of ancient manuscripts.

Should all librarians learn to code? As David Holmes of the PandoDaily pointed out when he asked whether journalists should learn to code, this isn’t a yes-no question. “Learning code could mean anything from spending a few hours to get familiar with HTML [to] taking a full courseload of computer science classes at a university,” he says. Being able to make computers do things is a skill you can take as far as you like: Some of us will become proficient programmers, and others will keep it basic. Those who aren’t fluent in the latest computing language can still build blogs and infographics and online tutorials. And any information professional will benefit from knowing how to fix a bit of HTML web text and being able to talk about technical needs with the people who are the experts.

David Holmes was kind enough to allow me to adapt his flowchart on whether journalists should learn to code. Many thanks, David, for your generosity.


Source: Adapted with permission from a flowchart by David Holmes/PandoDaily.


Flowchart: Should Journalists Learn to Code?” by David Holmes. PandoDaily, October 23, 2013.

Knight Digital Media Center (KDMC) technology tutorials. KDMC produces free digital media tutorials on subjects from website development to data visualization. While some tutorials focus on technology and journalism, most are general enough to be of use to anyone.

“Are You a Code-Curious Journalist? Here’s a Quick Guide to Online Tutorials,” by Matthew Gelfand. MediaShift IdeaLab, September 3, 2013.

Google Fusion Tables and IBM’s ManyEyes are free online tools for gathering, visualizing, and sharing data.


3 Responses to Should librarians learn to code?

  1. Hamish December 4, 2013 at 7:58 pm #

    It sounds great, but just wondering, from what I’ve heard isn’t app development rather involved? Like a lot of hardcore programming, hence the massive costs of commercial app development?

  2. Laurie Putnam December 5, 2013 at 10:34 am #

    @Hamish You’re absolutely right—commercial app development can be complex and time consuming, and I don’t mean to downplay the challenges professional developers face. But there’s a wide range of technical know-how we can acquire and projects we can take on. Many things that used to require specialized technical expertise are becoming less daunting because skilled programmers are building tools that let the rest of us do things more easily (see, for example, “Automated Video Editing and Mobile Tool Apps” from MediaShift).

    Again, it all depends on how motivated you are and how involved you want to get. Libraries do need true professional developers. And the rest of us need to be willing to try new things, and to be comfortable enough with technology to be able to communicate with the true developers.


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