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It’s that time of year again: Spring time coincides with the end of the semester and Capstone and suddenly people start getting squirrelly – and not just the students. Exhibit A: A masterfully placed paper airplane lodged nose first, high in the beams of the library. I don’t actually know how we’re going to get it down, but it makes me laugh so it can stay a while.

I enjoy a large gluteus


Exhibit B: A post-it note poem taped next to the computer at the front of the library, no doubt placed there by workstudy students, entitled “I enjoy a large gluteus maximus and I cannot tell a falsehood.”

Two weeks left in the semester and counting…

The Coding Debate

Last week, I read this post by Wayne Bivens-Tatum on why librarians don’t need to learn how to code, and I got a bit hot under the collar. Yesterday I read this excellent rebuttal by Lane Wilkinson on whether coding is an essential librarian skill. I agree on nearly all points with Lane’s argument, especially this part at the end:

Some librarians need to learn how to code and pick up one or more programming languages, but most librarians don’t. And while most librarians might not need to learn how to code, all librarians should understand the basic principles and foundations of coding, if only so that they can better communicate with those who do learn and apply programming languages.** Heck, even Wayne Bivens-Tatum’s dismissive attitude towards code is only possible because he has a basic understanding of code: the very ability to “steal the code I need to fix any problem I might encounter” requires some understanding of what coding problems look like, what correct code looks like, and so on.***

So, coding is a weakly essential skill in librarianship: all librarians need to know what a programming language is, how to talk about it, and what coding can and can’t do. But, then again, that’s how it is with every other skill in librarianship. The only things that are strongly essential in this profession are our values and principles; our theories and concepts. Show me a skill you think is strongly essential for librarianship, anything from coding to cataloging, and I’ll show you a great librarian who nonetheless lacks that skill. And the next time someone says that “all librarians must have skill X”, ask if they really mean “all libraries need someone with skill X.” I bet you’ll find they actually mean the latter.

** (And, from a pedagogical standpoint, it could be that teaching a programming language is the best way to teach the principles of coding. But, that’s a pedagogical tactic, not a tacit admission of strong essentialism. )

*** (Also, just to be clear, HTML is a markup language, not a Turing-complete programming language. So, strictly speaking, WBT’s position on HTML is irrelevant to the issue of coding in libraries. Still, the same “learn it on the fly” approach to programming languages is popular, so for my purposes it’s a distinction without a difference.)

I have two defined thoughts that go beyond Lane Wilkinson’s comments, which, once again, I think are excellent. The first thought is personal. I learned the very basics of coding in library school, as a person who was emphatically NOT A CODER. As a librarian working in a tiny library (which does employ a coding librarian, thankfully), I do need to be able to talk intelligently about code on a nearly daily basis. It allows me to build relationships with my co-workers, the IT department, and some faculty. And I did use my HTML skills last week when our ILL form broke (which, as Lane notes, is not coding). No, I was not responsible for fixing it, but scouring the code did allow us to talk to the web designer in a way was more intelligent than taking the car to the mechanic and saying, “It just won’t go.” This issue of communicating intelligently with people whose job it is to do the coding is essential, and it is ironically the cornerstone of Wayne Bivens-Tatum’s argument against coding.

The second thought has to do with the desperate need that libraries have for coders. Anyone who has used an ILS or library database can see that we need coders. And what we need is librarian coders. As a librarian who received a degree from an Information School, I was able to see on a daily basis exactly how intertwined our disciplines are. Librarians inform user experience designers who inform archivists. Our worlds overlap. It was incredibly frustrating to see the user experience designers, whose coding ability and frame of reference could make such a difference in modern libraries, take their talents to big information companies like Foresee and Google. I don’t blame them, really, but this exodus is notable.

We don’t all need to be coders. I’m a passable coder who could be better if I needed to be, but, like Lane Wilkinson, my talents and interests are in instruction and technology. The point is, we can’t educate librarians to be non-coders, because libraries need coders. And since traditionally educated coders don’t seem to be flocking to the less-than-Google-rate salaries available in libraries, what we need are librarian coders.

Do all librarians need to code? No. Do libraries need code? Yes. There is an obvious overlap here.

Vegetable Literacy

So, vegetable literacy is a thing. Apparently.

Admittedly, I threw a big eye roll when I read the title of this book. Add vegetable literacy to the list including financial literacy, visual literacy, digital literacy, and information literacy. But then, I read the description, and I read a review on a cooking blog that I like, and I changed my tune a fraction. I still hate the title, but it makes sense when you know what it’s about. Here’s a bit from the review at 101 Cookbooks:

Deborah’s new book explores the relationships between vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers within the same botanical families. So, for example, if you understand that buckwheat, rhubarb, and sorrel are all part of the Knotweed family, it might impact how you consider use them…. Understanding these relationships directly impacts how you think about using these ingredients.

Deborah Madison is an extremely well respected chef specializing in vegetables. This premise, that understanding botanical families can help you “read” your vegetables and use them in better, more effective ways fits the definition of fill-in-the-blank literacy very well. It makes perfect sense. It doesn’t mean I have to like the title of the book.

I’ve said it before: I don’t think that librarians have a corner on the word “literacy.” At the same time, I have a very visceral reaction whenever I hear the word used that nearly causes my eyes to roll out of my head. I believe totally in fill-in-the-blank literacy. Asking great questions, being curious, and leveraging what we know to catapult us into the unknown are things I could happily wave a banner for. And yet. And yet. I can’t quite pin down the source of my dislike of the word “literacy” and they way it gets tossed around. What do you think? Anybody else have a similar reaction?

With a significant portion of our student body focused on culinary arts (and a library with over 1000 cookbooks!), we will be purchasing this book for our library. I still don’t like the title.

On making friends


When I moved into my office and started opening drawers and moving things to the storage room, I found a huge bag of peppermint candies. I mean, HUGE. I had no idea how long it had been there, but I knew for sure that it would take me approximately 10.4 years to eat them all myself. I closed the drawer and only opened it sporadically to placate sugar cravings I couldn’t ignore.

At one point my grandmother had given me a nice, copper colored pumpkin. It was big and heavy and had a handle and a jack-o-lantern face. Not being a person who can effectively say no to her grandma, and also not being a person who does much holiday decorating, I brought it to the office and plunked it on my desk around Halloween. It looked empty, so I dumped the peppermints into the pumpkin. Every now and then, a student who came to my office for help would ask if they could have a peppermint. “Of course!” I said. “That’s what they’re there for!”

Halloween passed the the pumpkin looked out of place, so I turned out the peppermints onto my desk and decided to bring something else to work to hold them. Well, I forgot. I kept forgetting, and the pile of peppermints on my desk was pretty conspicuous. Soon, traffic increased. Students would come into my office for a quick chat and a peppermint. Students looking for help would often leave with a handful. Even faculty and staff started stopping by when they spotted the pile in the window. They would carefully comment on the size of the pile with subtle undertones questioning my sanity, but they always left with a peppermint and a smile. We would chat, and they would remember me.

Yesterday I gave a number of library orientation workshops for students new to the college this semester. In one session, as I was explaining the location of my office a student interrupted to ask, “Is you office the one with the huge pile of mints?” And today, a student interrupted me while I was on the phone to ask if she could have a mint. While I could take issue with execution of basic manners by interrupting someone on the phone to ask for candy, I can’t deny the steady parade of people through my office.

I’m at a loss to explain why my most effective outreach effort to date is an accident involving a massive and well-placed quantity of undated peppermint candies. I mean, I don’t even think peppermints are particularly desirable as candy, or maybe that’s just my bias. I’m guessing that the size of the pile, now quite diminished but truly remarkable in its heyday, and the visibility of my office had something to do with it. People come just to say, “Wow. That’s a lot of peppermints.” Whatever the reason, I’m not sure I can take credit but I’m definitely grateful.