Library Technology & a Liberal Arts Degree

One of my biggest problems is that I have a hard time letting myself fail, struggle, and learn the hard stuff. I am working on this. Let me explain.

Data is a new thing in my life. If you had asked me three years ago what type of librarianship I wanted to pursue, data services librarianship would probably not have been my first inclination. For one thing, I would have assumed that data librarians were all 1) super techy, probably coders and/or 2) STEM types who excel at math (shudder) and 3) They all had the educational background to back 1 and 2 up. And those descriptions just didn’t fit my idea of myself. I had an English background; come on. Who would take me seriously?

But I’ve learned some things since then. The library technology world is filled with smart people with liberal arts backgrounds. Even people I assumed had computer science or math backgrounds – not the case. So I really want to share with anyone out there that you should think about who you want to be, not who you are as defined by your undergraduate degree — or even by your MLS. Hey, if I let myself be defined by my MLS I would still think I was technically deficient. It’s so worth sharing that you should just try things. Try programming languages, try APIs, try out an Arduino. It’s okay to be utterly confused at first. It doesn’t mean you are not smart.

I can’t stress that enough. I think people need a little hand-holding–words of encouragement combined with subtle pushes to try new things and develop new skills in an environment that feels safe. We can’t always be worried about seeming stupid. I think back on several times over the past few years and wish I had just asked questions without the fear of being judged and promptly tossed out as an impostor.

So. The Art History major who fibbed that she knew HTML to get her first IT job, then grew to an important role within library tech; the Art History major who went on to get her AH graduate degree only to realize she couldn’t find a job, then taught herself to program. These are just two examples of people I know out of many. Learning the backstory makes me realize that while I always assumed that they were just naturally, inherently techy in a way I wasn’t, this was a weird mental fallacy I was cooking in my own brain. I learn about all of these women in my life, and I feel so much better about my own growth. We all start in different places, with different strengths and weaknesses. And lately, when I’ve been seeing my peers making the same assumptions about me that I once made about the women I look up to, I’ve been coming clean. Trying to encourage them. Clearly this isn’t just a woman thing, but it is something I’ve seen manifesting itself in women around me. Perhaps guys with liberal arts backgrounds feel the same discomfort; I’m not sure.

Be a curious wanderer and ask questions, my goodness. Give yourself permission, without feeling like you’re exposing yourself as a weak link. (This is something I need to do a better job at. A much, much better job.)

Nowadays I get so excited when I see the coding games for kids, the STEM-focused education for girls. I didn’t get any sort of technology education beyond how to type (in the sixth grade). And again, this wasn’t necessarily anyone holding me back, but a path toward learning more (or why that would be germane in the least) never presented itself. So by what means of osmosis was I supposed to learn how the all the pieces of the web fit together?

People are just held back to the extent that they stop diving deep into the hard stuff. There’s no way I’m going to be that person. I know I will be a better librarian, technologist, and manager if I let myself struggle more. Heck, I would probably be a better person, too. I’ve been taking courses for the past few years and know I’ll be continually learning in this profession–for me, it’s just about giving myself more credit and working through the struggle.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this post! I’m a prospective library school student coming from a liberal arts background with similar hopes of becoming a life-long learner/risk taker in the profession.

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