Tech skills projects for librarianship
September 28, 2011 5:02 PM   Subscribe

I'm a librarian-in-training wanting to improve my tech skills (which are pretty non-existent at the moment) and I figure the best way to do that is to have some projects to work on, but I'm having trouble coming up with any ideas.

So I'm looking for projects library people are working on (or things that they think should be worked on), to give me a feel for what's going on and what's possible, and to maybe give me some new ideas. Vaguely, I'm interested in: LAMP stuff, open source, using things like the twitter/ google maps APIs. But my interests are quite broad ranging so any links to or information about projects relating to technology and libraries would be useful.
posted by ninjablob to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Find an existing open-source project that involves the technologies you want to learn, and contribute to it in some small way. Then try to make a slightly larger contribution. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Some of the smartest programmers I know got their starts just fixing up the comments in other people's code. I bet the people at wouldn't turn down that sort of help.
posted by mhoye at 5:10 PM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There are a lot of options to help out and improve documentation in open source projects and it's also a really good way to get involved and see how a project works and what other sorts of things need doing generally. Koha is the project that I've been the most onvolved in You can see some community-created documentation here and you can contact Nicole [her email is on that page, she is terrific, tell her Jessamyn says hi] and see if she has suggestions for other places to get stared. I'm not sure what the size of the libraries you'd like to be working with are, but knowing how to run, operate and upgrade a basic open source CMS like WordPress is something that I've found very useful. Learning how to install it, add a theme, maybe do a little jiggering of the HTML or CSS are all things that transpate into marketable skills. The same is true for drupal as well, though the learning curve is a little steeper in my experience.

If you have small libraries near you that you could work with you might want to ask them what their needs are and see if you could find a way to have a project that you can work on also be a benefit to a real live library. Teaching classes at local adult education programs is another way to get some skills [I teach a lot of "Know Your Mac" classes that are fun to teach and also really useful to people] which will be useful in a library setting. You could also look at whoever your local library organization is and see if they have an IT subchapter. Where I am there's NELA [the New Eng;and Library Association] and their sub-chapter is ITS [info tech something] and they do conferences and continuing ed stuff. They're worth getting involved with as a networking thing but also to get to know what sorts of thngis are good to know in your region, where some of the gaps are and that sort of thing.

I'd start with either finding a little online project or starting one [again, depending on where you are] where you could help out and put your skills to use building little things that would help people. Where I am there's always some tiny business who could use help getting a map of their branches up on the website, or fuguring out how to get webmail working for their employees. The great news is, it's an interesting time to be a librarian. Best of luck and let me know if you have more specific questions.
posted by jessamyn at 5:30 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

You know, Drupal and libraries are supposed to get along really well. You might want to check out to get started. Plenty more where that came from.
posted by msamye at 6:39 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Read "This Book Is Overdue" by Johnson. It shows the diverse activities of librarians and mentions a number of websites and publications that they favor. I would go where the librarians hang out and ask them. Having said that, I would concentrate on being a power user and not a developer. Concentrate more on identifying information sources and techniques for manipulating same.
posted by PickeringPete at 7:06 PM on September 28, 2011

Consider volunteering for a community org, non-profit tech group, or entrepreneurs group. Don't just show up and say 'give me stuff to do', though. Attend a few meetings, reach out to people, let them tell you what they do, and then consider what you can offer.
posted by 4midori at 7:57 PM on September 28, 2011

Best answer: Welcome the world of libraries and computers! I'll give you a programmer/developer-oriented answer.

There's a informal group of people seriously interested in libraries and programming: Code4Lib. Join the mailing list, start hanging out in the IRC channel, look for meetings near where you are. It's a friendly bunch of people working on fascinating projects at all sorts of places, and almost always doing it openly. You can fork their code on GitHub and poke at it.

Linked data would be one important thing to know about, and it could lead in a lot of directions. Linked library data is a new way of expressing bibliographic metadata and integrating it with other standard vocabularies and ways of expressing information. There's a lot of LLD working going on, some very advanced, but on a simpler hackier level you could learn a nice set of tools by, say, learning enough Python and RDF to make sense of the British Library's linked data catalogue dumps and match that up with LCSH linked data and information from Freebase. It's all linked, as you'll see, so once you start to follow your nose, the whole world opens us.

An approach like that would give you a nice set of tools and knowledge. Helping on a project is also a fine way to go, in which case I'd recommend VuFind and Blacklight, two open source discovery layers built on the search engine Solr, written in respectively PHP and Ruby on Rails. They both welcome people and have lots of work to be done.
posted by wdenton at 8:12 PM on September 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Omeka is another open source project that's interesting in a library context. It's a collections CMS based (very loosely) on Wordpress. It runs on a LAMP stack, so it fits that requirement. My library has been exploring it for use in getting some of our digitized special collections online, and it has a lot of potential in that area.

I also hear a lot of good things about Code4Lib, though I haven't ventured there myself yet.
posted by ashirys at 11:45 AM on September 29, 2011

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