I’ve already written in previous posts about my fairly “amateur” foray into the world of libraries as an MLS student – that is, my lack of specific experience in the field. Along with the fact that my concentration is focused on the informatics and technology side of librarianship, I am often finding myself faced with new concepts that others in my courses have some familiarity with, which often results in a feeling of needing to research and “catch up.”
I’m obviously not the only library student who is learning about aspects of the field for the first time. And in fact, particularly when it comes to the technology side, most of these concepts aren’t brand new to me at all. But the idea of using them in my day-to-day professional life seems daunting since my understanding of them is fairly cursory at this stage. I’ve heard about Python and HTML and metadata the same way your grandma knows that websites start with “www.” and end with “.com.” I get that they exist and vaguely why, but I’m not about to publish a book on them.
Some of those example concepts I just listed might make more seasoned library students feel concerned for the state of our field if I’m theoretically going to be working in it within the next year. Heck, metadata is a fairly important aspect of the posting process here at HLS, so I’ve definitely been schooled on that one not just in my classes but in these sorts of contexts, too.
However, knowing what valids are and what purpose they serve isn’t part of the application process of most library programs I’m aware of. And a combination of flexible education within courses like Organization of Information and Database Design, along with some willingness on the part of the student to do a little personal research seems like a necessary combination to help get students like myself up to speed on more niche knowledge bases within the discipline.
In an effort to be open about my own learning process, my post today is intended to briefly summarize my findings on Extensive Markup Language, more commonly referred to as XML. Most of us have probably heard the term before and understand it as being related to programming, but until I was met with a metadata record assignment in one of my courses this semester, I hadn’t come anywhere close to creating an XML file of my own before.
First, what exactly is XML? Like, what does it do? The short answer is that it is used to describe data. The longer answer is that its, “primary function is to create formats for data that is used to encode information for documentation, database records, transactions and many other types of data.” This makes sense on a very topical level, but then when you see something that looks like this–
–one’s confidence in approaching it may diminish slightly.
This article from “Computers in Libraries” is 20 years old – almost to the month – and yet because of its almost imaginative, future-focused approach to XML’s utility in information institutions, it is an excellent introduction to the topic within library specific contexts. A key takeaway from the piece is XML’s flexibility to its user in creating tags to describe the information being documented within a file, combined with the consistent formatting of that data. These two characteristics, particularly when combined, make XML an amazing resource within library systems.
In case you have to play around with XML in any of your courses the way I have this past week, I’ll leave you with a very helpful (and free) tool available in the Microsoft App store. XML Notepad allows you to import an existing .txt file containing XML markup, then converts it to a more digestible tree format. This can also be done with XML template files, as you can then use the program to edit and add fields and change parent/child relationships. For me at least, this allowed me to work somewhat backwards in understanding the formatting style used by XML. For Mac users, this seems like comparable software, although I can’t speak from direct experience on that one.
Overall, XML is definitely a useful tool for librarians to master regardless of their specific discipline or institution. If you haven’t already been introduced to it in one of your classes, I highly recommend finding some template files on the web and playing around with them in a low-pressure, self-led educational context.
Delanie Rio is currently pursuing her MLS remotely through Emporia State University with a concentration in informatics. She received her undergraduate degree in liberal arts with a minor in legal studies from Colorado State University in 2016, and has worked as a paralegal, a government administrator, and a transcriptionist in the years since. Her academic interests include older adult/nontraditional students, distance learning, information literacy, and self-led education. After completing her degree, she hopes to pursue academic librarianship. She currently resides in her home state of Colorado with her dog, Luka, and bunny, Ollie, and enjoys camping, painting, and writing when she’s not curled up with a good book.