A Time of Opportunity for the Library Programmer

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                                                                                          by marshall breeding
                                                                                                  Director for Innovative Technologies and Research
                                                                                                                      Vanderbilt University Libraries

                                            A Time of Opportunity for the
                                                    Library Programmer

              LIBRARIES ARE              One of the most rewarding aspects of           gaps in functionality not available in other
                                     working with technology in a library involves      products, or finding ways to connect applica-
                                     finding ways to solve day-to-day problems          tions. With even a basic level of proficiency,
         TAKING A MORE               and to shape its computing environment to          you can begin to accomplish useful tasks.
                                     best meet the needs of its staff and users. It’s   Once you gain a higher level of mastery, op-
          ACTIVE ROLE IN             great to find ways to support the organiza-        portunities to make important contributions
                                     tion in ways not necessarily possible with the     to your library, or even to the broader com-
                                     out-of-the-box automation systems that com-        munity of libraries, greatly expand.
           THE CREATION              prise its official technical infrastructure. For       Library programmers arrive at their station
                                     a library to be able to extend and enhance its     by many different paths. Some will come with
            OF SOFTWARE              technical environment, it’s helpful to have        training in computer science and programming.
                                     one or more staff members with the ability to      These individuals will have great technical
                                     write or modify scripts and programs.              skills but have to work hard to learn more about
                      AND ARE            Not all libraries may need in-house pro-       library-specific issues. Libraries deal with data
                                     gramming capacity—the vast majority don’t.         in quirky ways that may seem unusual to those
           DEALING WITH              But if your responsibilities include involve-      coming from an IT background in other indus-
                                     ment with the library’s technical infrastruc-      tries. Alternately, many others begin with ex-
                                     ture, or if you manage technology and you are      perience or education in the library profession
                MANY MORE            thinking about the skills needed as your or-       and gravitate toward technology, so they may
                                     ganization moves forward, you might think          have picked up some level of programming
             INTEGRATION             about where computer programming falls             skills along the way. It’s the blend of experience
                                     into the mix of skill sets to cultivate. This      with library issues and knowledge of profes-
                                     month’s column takes a look at some of the         sional programming concepts and techniques
                           ISSUES.   opportunities, advantages, and caveats in-         that can produce an outstanding library pro-
                                     volved with having a programmer on staff.          grammer. The cultivation of a great library
                                                                                        programmer blends two areas of expertise—
                                                                                        facility with one or more programming lan-
                                     Acquiring Programming Skills
                                                                                        guages and a strong knowledge of the idiosyn-
                                        Gaining mastery of a programming lan-           cratic realm of the data structures, protocols,
                                     guage enables a wide realm of possibilities in     and standards that pervade our profession.
                                     solving problems. In libraries, some of the            Gaining a detailed knowledge of MARC
                                     common tasks include extracting or trans-      
Description: [...] if your responsibilities include involvement with the library's technical infrastructure, or if you manage technology and you are thinking about the skills needed as your organization moves forward, you might think about where computer programming falls into the mix of skill sets to cultivate. Advanced programmers, or software development engineers, often work in teams that might also include software architects, interface designers, analysts, quality assurance specialists, and technical writers to create largerscale software applications.
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