Advice Wanted


After a bit of proverbial kick in the 8-bits today, I’m currently wondering where I should be going careerwise and need some advice. (I may look at things a bit more stoically tomorrow, but today, not really!)

There are a couple of angles to this – I’m a librarian and also a bit of a programmer.

As a technically minded librarian who programs outside of work and has the sort of interests you can see in this blog, where should I be going? I can program in a few languages – I’m not an expert in any of them, but I get by. I don’t have to use them in my day job, and they’re just used for my personal tinkerings. Would you recommend I focus seriously on a particular language and get a qualification, or is that a pointless move? eg I can program in Java, but is it worth me getting a qualification in it, or should I move on to something else which will give me a better long-term result? Should I not even bother with programming using code? Sh0uld I be looking at developing other areas of IT information related skills? I have various holes in my knowledge, some of which for a clunky programmer might be considered basic, but I just tend to use/deal with things I know about and fill in gaps as I go along.

Now I think I really need to put some structure into what I’m doing and concentrate on areas that are going to help me in the long-term – I’m not normally career minded – I have been fortunate to be led down a route that I’ve been happy with, but now I think I need to put a bit more direction into what I’m doing.

Also, on the non-programming side are there other avenues in libraries and the information profession I should be exploring?

This is a genuine request. Any feedback/suggestions from anyone would really be appreciated. It doesn’t matter if what you say is at odds with other people, or if it’s just one idea or a big long list of suggestions, all thoughts will be considered.



7 thoughts on “Advice Wanted

  1. Ben Elwell

    As Ned Flanders might say, that’s a dilly of a pickle! I’m interested to see what other people say, as I am in a fairly similar position myself. I have picked up all my l33t skillz as a hobby, and now being a shambrarian I have to be jack of all trades, but I don’t have time to really master any of them fully. My day to day work mainly involves ksh/bash, sql and some perl, and now as I am working on the website I dabble in html, javascript (mainly jQuery) and CSS.

    The tricky thing is to decide what sort of career you want. If you fancy being a sysadmin, you need ksh, bash, sql, and perl mainly. There are plenty of courses to go on (Unix, Linux etc), and I’m sure there are plenty of free online resources.

    If you fancy being a trendy web person, riding your Segway to work and sipping coffees with weird names, then concentrate on sql, php and javascript (and basic html/html5/css).

    In between there are application developers, using php, python, c, Java (now rather popular for Android phone apps).

    My problem is that I have no idea which way I want to go. I like the variety of doing a bit of everything, yet always wish I could concentrate on one and become an expert. At the moment our department doesn’t employ enough techy people to allow us to specialise – we have to handle pretty much everything computer related.

    Not sure if that really helps at all. Perhaps grow a beard and ponytail? (seems to work for DaveyP!).

  2. Hi Gary,

    I write this as a shambrarian, someone who understands how libraries work and is happy to be involved in their business.

    I too have struggled in the past with what I should do, and whether I should get a ‘professional’ qualification (although I do already have a degree) so that I might be taken more seriously in the ‘library’ world.

    My background is in business information systems, thinks like finance, project management, process engineering/review, marketing, database management, programming, networking, web page design etc – all of which are key activities in any business, and in libraries.

    My advice to anyone thinking about their career is not to worry about the qualifications, but do something that you’re passionate about. If you’re passionate about it, it will shine through in everything you do.

    I don’t code any more but know that I could if I wanted to, and most languages are pretty easy to pick up if you know the basics. I feel the future is in breadth of knowledge, and how you apply that across different areas rather than in specific areas.

    So, I have a question for you? Which bits of your job do you absolutely love? Which bits would you happily drop tomorrow? List them in priority order, then try and match them in to different jobs. We all have bits of our jobs that aren’t our favourites, but overall I feel you should be happy in 80% of what you do. (roughly!).

    Shout if I can help further.


  3. Hi Gary

    As you know, I’m a big fan of more people (generally), and librarians (in particular) being more familiar with basic programming techniques (whether this extends to programming, or just understanding how programming works is slightly less clear to me). For me there is an interesting parallel with some discussions around skills needed by journalists – eg see Charles Arthur’s blog post

    So – for me an interest and aptitude for programming doesn’t necessarily mean you should become a programmer – unless that’s what you really want to do. In terms of filling in gaps – I think Ben’s summary is pretty fair. I’ve generally taken a similar approach to the one you described – learn the stuff I need to get things done – but I’ve conciously focussed on web-based tech more recently as I feel it is where I need to be as a library professional.

    I think Mandy’s advice is also good – think about those things you really enjoy and look for roles that will enable you to do those things – I decided to do this about a year ago, and so far I’ve got no regrets.

  4. Thanks Ben, Mandy and Owen for this advice.

    All of it is really helpful and appreciated and has given me plenty to think about. I realise it’s such a big area that there wasn’t going to be an easy answer, but it will help me focus. The first part was acknowledging that I needed to do something and now I need to get off my backside and get on with it.

    Thanks – Gary

  5. Library Web needs coding professionally, it has well and truly outgrown its original shoes. There is big potential for a Library Web type site but abstracted out – see the article linked to on the About page. I still haven’t a clue how I’m going to get this done, but if your’re bored by all means let’s discuss possibilities 😉

    Library Web admin.

  6. Gary Green

    Gary starts back-tracking a bit… 😉 Unfortunately, my ‘I can program in a few languages’ doesn’t equal ‘professional coder’, that’s why I’m considering the idea of qualifications. I’m never bored – unfortunately I have too much time to think and not enough to do the stuff I’m thinking about, that’s part of the reason why I need to focus… Phew, think I got out of that one!

  7. Joanna Ptolomey

    Hi Gary, saw your post on twitter and thought I might wade in. I am a librarian (you know me through the freepint stuff @chibbie), through my writing and editorial work, you may have also noticed I talk alot about health info (my consultancy stuff). Occasionally I develop and deliver courses too on a variety of subjects (more stuff). Oh and I worked as a health librarian and info analayst for a global consultancy company. Oh and I should mention I trained as a planning engineer in the construction industry and worked there for 10 years too (another career). But never a programmer………

    I suppose what I can tell you is that it is OK to be interested and move away from perhaps some of the core activities you have trained in. It can add depth to your skills and experience. So whilst I have no experience and guidance on programming I think that Mandy and Owen provided some great advice at working out a way to follow what you really love to do. Once you have decided to do that then it almost sets you free, or gives you permission to work outside or on the boundaries of what you may have trained for.

    I worried alot about similar stuff over the years and as Manady said actually having a breadth of knowledge opens up many more possibilities for you. I have a very broad range of skills and knowldege, although I do specialise in health info and social media, I have just found different outlets for each thing I am interested in. Perhaps easier when you are self employed, but I think it is possible. I thought so much about it all I eventually wrote a book/guide – the underlying focus was about feeling that you are in charge of what you do and how you do it. Saying that a little bit of programming would be good for me… perhaps I will follow up on that with you.

    THis is my tuppence worth, but to be honest I think that you are already on the right track. You have started asking questions….good for you.

    Cheers and best wishes

    Joanna Ptolomey

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s