How to get an intro to computer sciences?
August 25, 2009 11:14 AM   Subscribe

Should I go back to school and take some computer programming classes? I've got my MLIS and work in Archives now, I'm sorta interested in Content Management but I have no useable computer knowledge. Would an introductory course help me see where my strenghts are and what I might possibly be good at? I'm not sure where to go from just having my Master's on top of the fact that I'm not sure I want to stay in the Archives field. I'm more interested in Records Management but I know I lack a lot of the tech experience
posted by Mis-Information to Education (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I have an MLS in Archives & Information Records Management, and used to work in Records Management at a government agency before I moved to a sort of collections development role at a university.

The entire field is dependent on a good solid knowledge of computers. Perhaps not necessarily programming per se, but (absolutely, positively) the more familiar you are with the function, use, and jargon of databases, the better. And all jobs require the basic skills of computer use, so take some classes that fill in your gaps. Gaining more comfort with computers can only assist you in the future.

I was in an IT field before I did my MLS. This has only helped me in my library career.

Records management is a particularly dicey field, because the records themselves are mostly electronic now, so records management solutions have to be electronic as well, and most records management programs are based on paper records management. I found that it was a field with a lot of problems and very few solutions. That isn't meant to dissuade you from pursuing it- maybe you can help with some of those badly-needed solutions!- but being comfortable with computers is essential.
posted by aabbbiee at 11:31 AM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Would an introductory course help me see where my strenghts are and what I might possibly be good at?

If you want to learn how to program, courses will help but it's mainly a matter of putting in a lot of time to work on projects and build up skills over time. If you want to learn whether or not you find programming interesting enough to spend time learning, any exposure to programming will work.

If you don't want to make the leap to taking actual classes just yet, I highly encourage picking up a book or finding a tutorial online and working through an introduction to a programming language. There are a lot of people who like programming and a lot of people that find it's just not for them, regardless of other factors such as intelligence, so I suggest getting your feet wet to get a feel for what it's like before you make a big commitment to get in depth knowledge on the subject.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:55 AM on August 25, 2009

If you are interested in Content Management and Records Management, I don't see how computer programming would help you. I don't want to dissuade you from it, though. Programming is fun! Rather, you need to be able to find your way around Content Management Systems and Records Management Systems. If I were you, I would try to scope out which system is most commonly used and try to learn it. I know that a lot of organizations in my neck of the woods use SharePoint for content management. So I would set my sights on that. And as aabbbiee suggested, an introductory databases course could help you AND give you an idea of your capacity for and enjoyment of more technical stuff.
posted by kitcat at 12:03 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am an information Architect that started as a special librarian. I got my MLS @ 10 years ago. Depending upon your focus in library school, you may have already been exposed to concepts that will help you move into content and/or records management. Metadata is your best friend. Again, depending upon your focus you may already be familiar with metadata. Many concepts I learned in organizing knowledge and cataloging classes came in handy when I learned to create and maintain my own controlled vocabulary. Those metadata concepts also come in handy if you want to work with search analysis and improving search results within a large website.

Do you deal with any of the electronic records in your archive, or are you primarily dealing with physical objects? What systems do you currently use to store and retrieve information about your holdings?

E-Records management is huge if you approach it from the angle of compliance (Sarbanes-Oxley has caused a lot of large companies to have to improve their records, any large corporation that is subject to being sued will need to deal with the nightmare of discovery, governments have to follow retention schedules (which is getting interesting with electronic records floating around hither and yon).

I want to second what kitcat said, it is important to get exposure to content management systems (CMS). Sharepoint seems to be ubiquitous lately. I do know of a few places related to MPOW that are using drupal, which is an open source CMS. There are also electronic records and document management (EDRM) systems that overlap the content managment systems' arena. The ones I'm familiar with are Autonomy, Vignette, Documentum. In my experience, once you are familiar with the concepts in a type of system you can figure out other applications as long as you are comfortable exploring computer applications :)

One thing that can help you is to learn to code, rather than learning to program.
Coding includes html, xml, and css. I have used these a various content management systems. Understanding database structures has been really helpful as well. I took two database creation classes in grad school. I have never used oracle again, but the concepts have helped a lot over the years within the content management/knowledge management/records management contexts. It might be useful to learn PHP or SQL or MySQL if you want to interact directly with databases. I believe electronic repository people do a lot of database work.

Feel free to memail me if you have more questions. Moving into the web/content world has been a fabulous experience for me.
posted by Librarygeek at 2:50 PM on August 25, 2009

To second what Librarygeek said about Sarbanes-Oxley and the hugeness of E-Records management:

I was working with a government department about three months ago that was in the midst of changing records procedures because of Sarbanes-Oxley. This lead to a desire to 'clean up' a lot more than prodedures surounding retention. I was asked to re-organize the IT department's electronic files under a completely new taxonomy. The Information Management department didn't want to touch it. Me, on the other hand, I was just an administrator.

They really could have used someone like you.
posted by kitcat at 3:47 PM on August 25, 2009

Content management systems are massive beasts even if they seem simple in concept. I recommended this before, but Stanford's intro to computer science courses are online in their entirety. Really a wonderful resource.
posted by geoff. at 4:30 PM on August 25, 2009 [4 favorites]

If you want to get deeper into Content Management and see more of what it entails, there are communities and forums built around the leading open source package, SugarCRM, and some of the other open sourced ones, that can do this for you for free. It's also dead simple to install the community edition of SugarCRM to play with on your PC.

Nthing the database suggestion; it will help you later when you want to build your own modules or play with the structure that's already there.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 6:45 PM on August 25, 2009

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