New career goal: learn scripting languages?

My career goals entering library school were relatively straight forward: I was going to specialize in what Wayne State calls “Digital Content Management”, while also taking classes in academic libraries.

A former journalist, I was still interested in media and how the news business works. But after working as a digital journalist for a few years and realizing how unstable the industry really is – and knowing how uncomfortable I would feel trying to make that minefield a career – I knew my calling lay not in being a reporter or editor, but a librarian. After a few “re-designs” of the CMS my company used to publish our stories, my colleagues and I were distraught to learn that hundreds of the stories we had published were suddenly missing. Our company assured us that “they were there” – they just required a little advanced searching. What they didn’t tell us was that some of those stories were truly, honestly lost to the great mysterious gods we call the Internet. Not deleted, just lost.

Now, major newspapers have “libraries” – basement storage rooms with yellowing newspapers going back decades. Archives will preserve newspapers going back centuries. But what about digital news content?

Anyway, that’s a long story to explain why I went to library school, but there it is. I thought “Digital Content Management” would be a good specialization should I want to pursue this interest further, and I thought working at an academic library would be a great way to open doors to research. Plus, I thought I could possibly work as a library liasion to a journalism department at a university, which would be super cool.

As I’ve made my way through library school, however, I’ve picked up new interests that I’d like to integrate into my eventual career. Digital preservation, for one. Metadata and cataloguing. At my job at the university’s law library, I’ve been introduced to the world of technical services, and I just love it. Being “behind the scenes” has always been a preference of mine – I think I’m stronger in these roles – and it’s good to know all the opportunities I could have working in the library industry.

But there are things I still need to learn. Throughout my time at Wayne State, I’ve hand-picked the classes I thought would be the most pertinent to my future career, taking classes that I knew would challenge me. But one can only take so many classes, and given that I’m paying for this master’s degree using student loans, I can only take the classes I need to graduate. And I graduate next year, in May. I’m taking two classes now, and only need two more  to graduate. I know what those classes are.

But again, there’s STILL things to learn. Like scripting languages, for example. I’m currently working an internship with the library system, in their digital publishing department, and my boss recently told me that a librarian looking for a position in his department would do well to know PHP, PERL, and other scripting languages. I would love to work in his department. I do not know scripting languages.

And it’s because I’ve never considered myself a “computer person”. Yes, I know computers pretty well, and I’ve taken multiple classes in HTML. But scripting languages? That’s like, for computer science guys, right? And I say “guys” not because I want to be sexist, but if I’m being honest, traditionally (or at least in my experience), computers have always been the  domain of “geeky guys”. Kind of a no-girls-allowed club. Now, I know that’s not true, but after living a life in words and books, I’ve grown comfortable being around people who are like me. It’s intimidating knowing that, in order to pursue the career I want, I need to break into the boy’s club. Plus, it means opening my mind to concepts that are WAY outside my comfort zone. It’s a little…scary.

But I’m going to try. I know I’ll never be an IT gal, but I’m hoping that if I can acquire even a basic knowledge of computers, scripting, and programming, I can make a space for myself in this boy’s club (and a boy’s club in the world of librarianship is rare, so what does that make me?). Who knows where I’ll end up – in a technical services department, as a reference librarian, as a digital archivist. All I know is that I want to be prepared. I was intellectually prepared for journalism, but not mentally, and that meant I wasn’t happy. I know I’ll be a great librarian, but I just need to get the other half up to snuff.

But unfortunately, that means teaching myself…scripting languages? Ah! Where do I even start? Do I even know what a “scripting language” is? According to Wikipedia, it’s:

A scripting language or script language is a programming language that supports scripts, programs written for a special run-time environment that can interpret (rather than compile) and automate the execution of tasks that could alternatively be executed one-by-one by a human operator.

Um, maybe that made sense. Until it does, I guess I’m open to book recommendations or web tutorials? Are there any scripting guys/gals out there? Help?



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