Computational Sense for Digital Librarians

Computational Sense for Digital Librarians

Michael B. Twidale (University of Illinois, USA) and David M. Nichols (University of Waikato, New Zealand)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-879-6.ch057
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This chapter discusses the role of technology in digital library education. It explores how elements of computer science and library science can be blended to produce an appropriate “computational sense” for future digital librarians. Elements of this approach include: metacognitive skills in learning about new computational resources, fluency in tailoring applications and a view of computing applications as codesigned artifacts that can evolve in response to the changing needs of users. The development of spreadsheets is used as an example of technological development that was well-designed to support both ease of use and incremental skill acquisition. The discussion in this chapter aims to inform the development of digital library software tools—particularly those used in educational contexts.
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There is an ongoing debate on what it means to be a digital librarian (Coleman, 2005; Marion, 2001; Mostafa, Brancolini, Smith, & Mischo 2005; Pomerantz, Oh, Yang, Fox, & Wildemuth, 2006a; Pomerantz, Wildemuth, Yang, & Fox, 2006b). It is similar to being a traditional librarian in terms of ethos and applicability of core guiding theories, including access, cataloguing, collection development and teaching people both search skills and general information literacy. It can be viewed as simply integrating a set of digital information resources into access services provided around preexisting paper-based resources. However, it also requires additional technical skills, extending the librarian’s role into new areas. For example, DL creation can be more akin to publishing than collection development, involving aspects of editing, revision and aligning to data and metadata standards.

The topic of digital librarianship is subject to rapid change (Pomerantz et al., 2006b), as it is partially defined by the availability and functionality of appropriate software. The ease of building a digital library or an institutional repository has been radically changed over the past decade by the emergence of software such as Greenstone (Witten & Bainbridge, 2003) and DSpace (Tansley, Smith, & Walker, 2005). For example, courses presented in library schools are often based around similar material presented in tutorials at digital library conferences. Education based around digital library software inevitably brings with it techniques and concepts from computer science; especially as most of these courses combine theory and practice (Ma, Clegg, & O’Brien, 2006). The practically-oriented How to Build a Digital Library (Witten & Bainbridge, 2003), is the most-assigned book on DL syllabi (Pomerantz et al., 2006a). The interdisciplinary nature of the topic is also highlighted by the appearance of digital library courses in computer science curricula (Pomerantz, Oh, Wildemuth, Yang, & Fox, 2007; Yang, Fox, Wildemuth, Pomerantz, & Oh, 2006).

Issues that can cause problems for library students vary from the basic (such as selecting the appropriate software version, downloading and installing) to advanced topics involving customization and extensibility (Nichols, Bainbridge, Downie, & Twidale, 2006). A recent survey on the issue of interface customization in Greenstone 2 included these responses: “I spent far more time trying to customize our interface than I did adding content to our library,” “interface design is currently geared very much toward programmers,” and “format statements are overly complex for most librarians” (Nichols, Bainbridge, & Twidale, 2007).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Digital Librarianship: The knowledge and skills needed to design and implement digital information services.

Programming Language: A high-level set of instructions to control the behaviour of a computer. Although high-level compared with the electronics of computers programming languages are still difficult to learn and most people cannot write a computer program.

Incremental Tailoring: The process of making small changes to a computer application to achieve a final effect; typically, this involves changes to the interface for the end user.

Computational Sense: A familiarity with the capabilities of computer applications and the ability to easily grasp the difficulty in implementing a computer-based solution. Typically acquired by learning a programming language.

Programmers: People with skills in writing and maintaining computer programs. Typically programmers will have been through several computer science courses.

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