It’s a simple fact: each year library and information science becomes a more technical field; there is an increasing expectation that by the time you leave library school you will have some amount of technical skill (coding, web design, database creation, etc.). As many schools adopt more and more technical information science courses, the once harsh line that separated librarians from computer scientists has become a lot fuzzier.
Much has been done to increase dialogue, positive relationships, and collaboration between the two groups. Many LIS careers now include technical components and interaction with computer scientists, IT personal, and other technically-minded people is often the norm. While many LIS students approach technical classes with trepidation and anxiety, many others come away with a passion for the work and enough technical fluency to hold their own in a future workplace that includes highly-skilled computer science professionals.
However, I have noticed, both in personal and professional instances, a definite negative reaction when librarians tell computer scientist students and professionals that they are learning technical skills. I’ve experienced this myself and have heard similar stories from other LIS students. So, for my inaugural HLS post, I decided to reach out to my friends with degrees in computer science (of which I, coincidentally, have many) to figure out why library students and librarians are often met with such an icy reception from our CS counterparts, and what we can do to change it. From their responses, I gleaned the following reasons/problems, and have tried to posit solutions. Please keep in mind that the quotes and ideas below represent the opinions of individuals about a multi-faceted problem; my intention is not to stereotype or offend, but to explore ways to build partnerships and mend discord.
- One friend suggested that a key problem is past exposures to non-CS people learning CS. For instance, at his undergraduate institution his early, introductory classes were usually about half filled with CS majors and half filled with business or engineering majors who were fulfilling a CS requirement. In his experience, many of the non-CS majors spent most of the class complaining about how hard the material was and how much they didn’t like it. Thus, while many of us often struggle with our tech classes and find them challenging, it is important not to come across like we’re bashing CS or that we resent it being part of our degree. If you do resent having to learn tech skills that much, I would suggest a different line of work; the LIS field will continue to embrace new technologies and expect technical skill from students and professionals.
- Another problem I gleaned from my conversations with friends is one of image and perception. The stereotype of the bookish, card-catalog obsessed librarian of the Dark Ages still exists, as evinced by one of my friends: “I’d guess that a librarian would use programming for building a catalog or doing research – both things that are considered slow, low-tech… This reinforces the view of libraries as low-tech – an unfair view, yet one that I have to admit to holding to some small degree.” To combat this mindset, we must be forthcoming with details and excitement about the outcomes of LIS technical knowledge and education. Explain to the skeptical parties that LIS students and professionals are working with humanists and computer scientists to develop cutting edge research tools, with historians and in archives to make one-of-a-kind resources more accessible, and with local communities to increase public engagement and digital literacy.
- Lastly, one of my friends suggested a simple case of “tech elitism”: “They think they’re better because they know more about something that’s valuable and thus can look down on those less familiar with the same thing.” Others echoed this opinion, suggesting that sometimes people can be arrogant. This boils down to a general problem that probably extends to a few bad apples in every field. The only advice here: don’t let the haters get you down. If you explain your mindset, intentions, and reasoning for learning tech skills and they still scoff? In the words of one of my good friends: “I have no idea what is going on with them but they sound like jerks.” Agreed.
With such an interdisciplinary field, librarians must always be ready and willing to collaborate with new groups and disciplines to ensure the continued excellence of our work. How do you combat skepticism, derision, or simple misconceptions about librarians and the LIS field? Any great recommendations or success stories from effective collaboration and understanding between LIS folks and others to share?
Also, for encouragement and resources regarding library students learning tech skills, please refer to the following past Hack Library School posts. These posts were a huge contributing factor towards my own decision to embrace new tech experiences and learning opportunities: