What programming should a library science student learn?

questionmarkI recieved this email from one of the students in the Collection Development class I taught at Mizzou and thought in addition to giving my answer I’d open it up for the hive mind.

I had read somewhere, it might have been on your blog in fact, that it might be a good idea for library school graduates to learn some web design languages. I am thinking of picking up in my spare time (whats left of it) some web design language and I’m not sure what would be appropriate in the library setting. Which brings me to my question. Do you have any suggestions as to what technical languages or proficiencies would be good to pick up? I have thought about HTML, ColdFusion, ASP, and JSP, but beyond knowing a little bit of HTML/XML I am unsure what would be most useful. What do you think? What would you like to see on someones application if you were hiring?

What advice can you give Chris?

Some other blogs that have addressed this

12 thoughts on “What programming should a library science student learn?

  1. HTML is like the piano of web languages. Learn it and the other stuff comes more easily. CSS too. As for others, I wish I had learned PHP/MYSQL in school when I had the chance.


  2. Good question, and one that has changed in the last few years! I’d start with xhtml and css. If you want more hardcore web skills, learn php/javascript next. This is what most web developers need these days, anyway. Check out the skillsets at 37signals job board – http://jobs.37signals.com/jobs – you’ll see what’s relevant in today’s web world.


  3. I’ll throw in a third vote for PHP. If you want to move beyond static web page design into dynamic pages and database integration, PHP and MySQL is a great start. Not to mention that they are pretty easy to pick up and applicable to several of the more popular CMS systems out there (WordPress and Drupal, for instance).

    If you’re looking to do something cool with say, Koha– that’s written in Perl, which is supposed to be pretty easy as well.


  4. Unless you’re going t do web development for your library, I wouldn’t limit it to web languages. Even learning a language like c++ will give you something of an idea how the people who write software think, which can be helpful to you.

    If you’re going to do web stuff, follow David Lee King’s advice, but also throw in PERL (after or before PHP) because you might find online and offline use here and there for it.


  5. Let’s start by clarifying what is a programming language and what is not. HTML/XHTML/CSS are not. HTML & XHTML are markup languages and not even in the same family as programming languages.PHP and Javascript are certainly the more relevant choices for doing dynamic web development, but still are not programming languages–they are scripting languages and a step down on the learning curve from true programming languages.

    Perl isn’t used as much for regular web sites any more, but it’s closer to a real programming language, as it uses a compiler. Many folks still debate whether or not it’s a true programming language.

    Generall speaking, a lot of what the originator of the question is asking about is all ways to communicate with the browser, rather than with the computer itself. Not the only boundary, but a good guideline when trying to determine which a particular language is.


    1. Laura, you’re right that HTML and CSS are not programming languages. However, scripting languages, like Javascript, Python and Ruby, *are* programming languages. These languages are all Turing Complete.


  6. Laura’s right about HTML/CSS, but the fact is that if you do any content on the web, they are a must.

    Having written programs in both real languages and scripting languages, I can tell you there’s not much difference in learning one or the other. The real difference in programming v/s scripting only matters in making sure the computer(in this case web server) can run the scripting language.

    As far as relevance to a job, if you’re not the primary web person, then a working knowledge of html/css is great for when you help with web content. If you are the primary web person, then you need to know html, css, php, mysql, javascript.

    The order above is in importance and is a good order to learn them in.


  7. As a children’s librarian, when I saw the title I thought you were talking about programming like doing a story time!

    Yes, HTML and CSS are good starters. Even if programming isn’t a part of the job, being able to read code is helpful. (I’ve been wrangling the Summer Reading Software from E-vanced this week.)


  8. I recommend XHTML & CSS for website markup (EVERYONE who uses the internet should know some XHTML); PHP & MySQL are good to know for development, as an increasing number of web applications, CMS, and APIs use PHP.


  9. I guess I should weigh in with my answer to this question – which is it depends. What do you hope to do when you graduate? What type of library? If your dream is to spend the rest of your days working a reference desk it probably doesn’t matter. I suggest you take a look at the jobs posted on http://lisjobs.com Look at the ones you think you’d be interested in applying for, what qualifications do they ask for? Know someone who has your dream job? email them and ask them what they need to know for their job.
    Hope that helps!


  10. @librarianbyday Basic web design skills are probably necessary. But beyond that, I think it depends on your primary focus of librarianship.


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