Why all library professionals should learn to code

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To be honest, the title of this post should really be “why everyone should learn to code”.

I know everyone is busy, everyone has their day job and it’s hard enough just getting all the things you have to do done, let alone setting yourself another seemingly impossible task. But the more I think about it, the more important it is.

Coding is the new literacy we all need to learn

Firstly, coding languages unlock the secrets of the digital age. Unless you can code, you can’t have a say in the way things look, the way they work or what they do. As a library professional, you can put down a specification in a tender document but how do you know if you will actually get what you want? And what if what you want changes before the app/library management system/website is finished, but you can’t do anything about it because it’s not in the tender specification?

And because you’re a service manager you’ve got a lot more control than the average member of the public, who just buys or consumes, or is given this stuff to use (for example, by their library service). This may seem like a relatively small problem now, but Universal Credit is moving all benefit recipients online, in the future there may be no actual Post Offices or banks you can go to – services may only exist online, and the gadgets we keep in our pockets, on our wrists, in our glasses or even contact lenses will frame and colour our world in ways we can’t even imagine now.

Are we really saying that we don’t want to have some control over that?

Data IS information

(Some) Library staff are often described as ‘information professionals’. But how can this continue to be the case if library staff can’t understand, organise and manipulate the big data that is the information which is increasingly used by commercial firms and governments to make decisions that affect us? The public need to be able to use this data too – and public libraries are the obvious place where this can be enabled.

If we are on top of it.

And to be on top of it we need to be able to code.

So what?

A lot of people say they ‘don’t do’ technology – and I get that I really do. It’s tempting to make it one person’s job and to just go and ask them slightly bemused questions or get cross with them when it doesn’t work. And I’ll be honest, I am really not the most natural technologist in the room. I like my Roberts Radio and my hob top kettle. I used to let my friends/partner/family tell me what tech I should buy because I really didn’t care. And I’m not very good at coding. But I’m learning. And I’m not even a library professional 🙂

Sue Lawson, from Manchester LIbraries, recommended https://dash.generalassemb.ly/ and I’ve completed the first two levels – it’s actually really fun! She also recently posted this link from Chattanooga Libraries on Linkedin http://www.nooga.com/166141/learning-to-code-all-it-takes-is-a-library-card/ which shows an exciting and simple way that libraries can help their staff and users get better at coding.

(Image: Highway Code, Beverley Goodwin)

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