Student Impressions of Tech Skills for the Field

by Sarah Nguyen


Back in March, during bloggERS’ Making Tech Skills a Strategic Priority series, we distributed an open survey to MLIS, MLS, MI, and MSIS students to understand what they know and have experienced in relation to  technology skills as they enter the field. 

To be frank, this survey stemmed from personal interests since I just completed an MLIS core course on Research, Assessment, and Design (re: survey to collect data on current landscape). I am also interested in what skills I need to build/what class I should sign up for my next quarter (re: what tech skills do I need to become hire-able?). While I feel comfortable with a variety of tech-related tools and tasks, I’ve been intimidated by more “high-level”computational languages for some years. This survey was helpful for exploring what skills other LIS pre-professionals are interested in and which skills will help us make these costly degrees worth the time and financial investment that is traditionally required to enter a stable archive or library position.

Method

The survey was open for one month on Google Forms, and distributed to SAA communities, @SAA_ERS Twitter, the Digital Curation Google Group, and a few MLIS university program listservs. There were 15 questions and we received responses from 51 participants. 

Results & Analysis

Here’s a superficial scan of the results. If you would like to come up with your own analyses, feel free to view the raw data on GitHub.

Figure 1. Technology-related skills that students want to learn

The most popular technology-related skill that students are interested in learning is data management (manipulating, querying, transforming data, etc.). This is a pretty broad topic as it involves many tools and protocols which can vary between a GUI or scripts. A separate survey that does a breakdown of specific data management tools might be in order, especially since these types of skills can be divided into specialty courses, workshops, which then translates into a specific job position. A more specific survey could help demonstrate what types of skills need to be taught in a full semester-long course, or what skills can be covered in a day-long or multi-day workshop.

It was interesting to see that even in this day and age where social media management can be second nature to many students’ daily lives, there was still a notable interest in understanding how to make this a part of their career. This makes me wonder what value students have in knowing how to strategically manage an archives’ social media account. How could this help with the job market, as well as an archival organization’s main mission?

Looking deeper into the popular data management category, it would be interesting to know the current landscape of knowledge or pedagogy in communicating with IT (e.g. project management and translating users’ needs). In many cases, archivists are working separately from but dependently on IT system administrators, and it can be frustrating since either department may have distinct concerns about a server or other networks. In June’s NYC Preservathon/Preservashare 2019, there was mention that IT exists to make sure servers and networks are spinning at all hours of the day. Unlike archivists, they are not concerned about the longevity of the content, obsolescence of file formats, or the software to render files. Could it be useful to have a course on how to effectively communicate and take control of issues that can be fuzzy lines between archives, data management, and IT? Or as one survey respondent said, “I think more basic programming courses focusing on tech languages commonly used in archives/libraries would be very helpful.” Personally, I’ve only learned this from experience working in different tech-related jobs. This is not a subject I see on my MLIS course catalog, nor a discussion at conference workshops. 

The popularity of data management skills sparked another question: what about knowledge around computer networks and servers? Even though LTO will forever be in our hearts, cloud storage is also a backup medium we’re budgeting for and relying on. Same goes for hosting a database for remote access and/or publishing digital files. A friend mentioned this networking workshop for non-tech savvy learners—Grassroots Networking: Network Administration for Small Organizations/Home Organizations—which could be helpful for multiple skill types including data management, digital forensics, web archiving, web development, etc. This is similar to a course that could be found in computer science or MLIS-adjacent information management departments.

Figure 2. Have you taken/will you take technology-focused courses in your program?
Figure 3. Do you feel comfortable defining the difference between scripting and programming

I can’t say this is statistically significant, but the inverse relationship between 15.7% who have not/will not take a technology-focused course in their program, compared to 78.4% of respondents who are not aware of the difference between scripting and programming is eyebrow raising. According to an article in PLOS Computational Biology,  the term “script” means “something that is executed directly as is”, while a “program[… is] something that is explicitly compiled before being used. The distinction is more one of degree than kind—libraries written in Python are actually compiled to bytecode as they are loaded, for example—so one other way to think of it is “things that are edited directly” and “things that are not edited directly” (Wilson et al 2017). This distinction is important since more archives are acquiring, processing and sharing collections that rely on the archivist to execute jobs such as web-scraping or metadata management (scripts) or archivists who can build and maintain a database (programming). These might be interpreted as trick questions, but the particular semantics and what is considered technology-focused is something modern library, archives, and information programs might want to consider. 

Figure 4. How do you approach new technology?

Figure 4 illustrates the various ways students tackle new technologies. Reading the f* manual (RTFM) and Searching forums are the most common approaches to navigating technology. Here are quotes from a couple students on how they tend to learn a new piece of software:

  • “break whatever I’m trying to do with a new technology into steps and look for tutorials & examples related to each of those steps (i.e. Is this step even possible with X, how to do it, how else to use it, alternatives for accomplishing that step that don’t involve X)”
  • “I tend to google “how to….” for specific tasks and learn new technology on a task-by-task basis.”

In the end, there was overwhelming interest in “more project-based courses that allow skills from other tech classes to be applied.” Unsurprisingly, many of us are looking for full-time, stable jobs after graduating and the “more practical stuff, like CONTENTdm for archives” seems to be a pressure felt in-order to get an entry-level position. Not just entry too; as continuing education learners, there is also a push to strive for more—several respondents are looking for a challenge to level up their tech skills: 

  • “I want more classes with hands-on experience with technical skills. A lot of my classes have been theory based or else they present technology to us in a way that is not easy to process (i.e. a lecture without much hands-on work).”
  • “Higher-level programming, etc. — everything on offer at my school is entry level. Also digital forensics — using tools such as BitCurator.”
  • “Advanced courses for the introductory courses. XML 2 and python 2 to continue to develop the skills.”
  • “A skills building survey of various code/scripting, that offers structured learning (my professor doesn’t give a ton of feedback and most learning is independent, and the main focus is an independent project one comes up with), but that isn’t online. It’s really hard to learn something without face to face interaction, I don’t know why.”

It’ll be interesting to see what skills recent MLIS, MLS, MIS, and MSIM graduates will enter the field with. While many job postings list certain software and skills as requirements, will programs follow suit? I have a feeling this might be a significant question to ask in the larger context of what is the purpose of this Master’s degree and how can the curriculum keep up with the dynamic technology needs of the field.

Disclaimer: 

  1. Potential bias: Those taking the survey might be interested in learning higher-level tech skills because they do not already know the skills, while those who are already tech-savvy might avoid a basic survey such as this one since they already know the skills. This may put a bias on the survey population consisting of mostly novice tech students.   
  2. More data on specific computational languages and technology courses taken are available in the GitHub csv file. As mentioned earlier, I just finished my first year as a part-time MLIS student, so I’m still learning the distinct jobs and nature of the LIS field. Feel free to submit an issue to the GitHub repo, or tweet me @snewyuen if you’d like to talk more about what this data could mean.

Bibliography

Wilson G, Bryan J, Cranston K, Kitzes J, Nederbragt L, Teal TK (2017) Good enough practices in scientific computing. PLoS Computational Biology 13(6): e1005510. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005510


Sarah Nguyen with a Uovo storage truck

Sarah Nguyen is an advocate for open, accessible, and secure technologies. While studying as an MLIS candidate with the University of Washington iSchool, she is expressing interests through a few gigs: Project Coordinator for Preserve This Podcast at METRO, Assistant Research Scientist for Investigating & Archiving the Scholarly Git Experience at NYU Libraries, and archivist for the Dance Heritage Coalition/Mark Morris Dance Group. Offline, she can be found riding a Cannondale mtb or practicing movement through dance. (Views do not represent Uovo. And I don’t even work with them. Just liked the truck.)

Welcome to the World of Tomorrow: Technology that should give archivists nightmares (or at least indigestion)

by Joshua Kitchens

Advances in technology should not be looked as so much as forward progress, but as a series  of more complicated things for use to preserve. This complicated reality that we as archivists will be facing. For just a moment, instead of considering the present or looking or backwards, let us look towards the bright and shiny tomorrow.

Quantum Computing

Quantum computing seems like a real thing. There were some doubts early on about whether or not the quantum computers that existed were real, but that sort of fits the whole definition of theoretical physics. Now it seems that qubits are the new bits. With Google and other tech companies leading the efforts to build machines that can calculate seemingly impossible things, and with speeds unheard of by today’s standards, say goodbye to simple 1’s and 0’s and hello to 1 and 0’s in superpositions and entangled, quantumly speaking. What kinds of records will these machines create? <Shrugs> It is impossible to know just yet, but they are coming, and we should be aware. Unfortunately, I doubt Al will be there to help us figure out where our leap into this new realm of computing has landed us.

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

Nothing quite gets my head spinning like thinking about how to deal with the inevitable virtual reality take over. While we may get to luxuriate in digital evergreen fields with elves, orcs, and cyberspace marines, I can only expect the enviable need to find a way to preserve these New Aged sprites, as I can only imagine that in the future a peace treaties will be worked out between a 7-foot-tall virtual anthropomorphic moose and an overly cute chibi panda. While further historians will debate the meaning of 🙂 in the third line of that treaty, we will need to understand the significant properties and other aspects that should be preserved and what could be said of the record qualities of these virtual spaces. What sorts of technological preservation will be required for these environments? Will we feel an overwhelming sense of dread as we appraise these records? Think about the headset graveyard!!! We should also consider augmented reality. Augmented reality poses a complex issue. What is the record, in this case: the Google Glass overlay onto the real world, or the data behind the overlay? I feel a bit like we are Morpheus searching for our Neo in this case. Will you be the One?

Video Games

In many respects, video games could be included in any discussion of virtual worlds, but for now, let’s take Mario head on, or shall we say feet first. Like virtual reality, video games are complex digital objects, but in addition to a game with systems for rendering pixels and dynamic worlds, there is usually a rabid and supporting fan base. These are primarily cultural spaces, sometimes based on game, like World of Warcraft and Eve Online, and sometimes existing through forums and twitter hashtags. These groups introduce new  language, like “ult” or ultimate. They debate issues going beyond the game environment. Problems range from ethics to Trans rights, to much more. So for video games, part of understanding  the complex record that is a game, is the various communities that have been created around them.

Blockchain

Blockchain is the new buzz word on the internet and business these days. What started out as principally a vehicle and system for recording transactions of a currency unfettered from governmental controls has blossomed into a buzzword fueled explosion of… well, I’m not entirely sure. What I do know is that graphics cards are prohibitively expensive now, and Kodak has licensed its name to a bitcoin mining company. Kodak has also allowed its name to be used for a company that wants to use blockchains to help track image rights. This is quite a development. Some researchers, such as Hrvoje Stancic, are already thinking about the implications of blockchains for archives and information professionals. So get ready, you might need your hacker specs for this one.

bloggERS! has gone fishin’

We’re off to SAA! Will you be there too? Check out our list of ERS-recommended sessions on Sched.

If you can’t make it this year, then follow along on Twitter with #SAA16!

4156531802_929debdfe1
People fishing on Green Lake, circa 1950s. Item 31415, Ben Evans Recreation Program Collection (Record Series 5801-02), Seattle Municipal Archives

 

We’ll be back soon with recaps from recent conferences and plenty of other good stuff.

 

Caption These Bits! #3 – And the Winner Is…

Thanks to everyone for voting in our latest caption contest.

The winner is…

“Ahh yes, once I remove this key there will be NO ESCAPE!”

Submitted by Anthony D. Congrats, Anthony!

Stay tuned for the next installment of Caption These Bits! In the meantime: have any photos in your collection that might inspire good digi pres puns? Email us!
BostonPublicLibrary-11_07_003861Source: Grant, Spencer.  11_07_003861. 1978.  Boston Public Library via Digital Commonwealth,  http://ark.digitalcommonwealth.org/ark:/50959/sn00b1507

Vote for the Winner: Caption These Bits! #3

In the latest round of Caption These Bits!, we asked readers to submit captions for this image:

BostonPublicLibrary-11_07_003861

Source: Grant, Spencer.  11_07_003861. 1978.  Boston Public Library via Digital Commonwealth,  http://ark.digitalcommonwealth.org/ark:/50959/sn00b1507

Thanks to everyone who contributed ideas!

The BloggERS editorial team voted for the top three captions, and now we need your help choosing the winner. Cast your vote for your favorite caption by 7/15, and then we’ll announce the winner.

Caption These Bits! #3

It’s time for Caption These Bits! round three! You’re digital pun experts now, right?

Once a month, bloggERS invites readers to submit captions for images related to electronic records and the history of technology, sourced from archives around the world. Submit your caption below by 6/19. Digital archives, preservation, and curation humor encouraged.

We’ll choose three finalists and invite readers to vote for the winner.

Now that we’ve all mastered our born-digital workflows with last week’s blog post, we’re ready to tackle some light computer maintenance. So here’s this month’s image:

BostonPublicLibrary-11_07_003861Source: Grant, Spencer.  11_07_003861. 1978.  Boston Public Library via Digital Commonwealth,  http://ark.digitalcommonwealth.org/ark:/50959/sn00b1507

CAPTION THESE BITS!

Caption These Bits! #2 – And the Winner Is…

Thanks to everyone who cast a vote in our latest caption contest.

The winner is…

“More Peanuts, less process”

Submitted by Michael Stamberg. Congrats, Michael!

Stay tuned for the next installment of Caption These Bits!, and in the meantime, remember: MPLP, Charlie Brown.

CarletonCollegeArchivesSource: 20110615_2_Computer_Equipment_2/data/originals/9440 from Collection ID: 3 Sub-Series 1968/69 Folder .032, Carleton College Archives. https://apps.carleton.edu/campus/library/now/news/?story_id=641857

Vote for the Winner: Caption These Bits! #2

Last week, we asked readers to submit captions for this image:

CarletonCollegeArchivesSource: 20110615_2_Computer_Equipment_2/data/originals/9440 from Collection ID: 3 Sub-Series 1968/69 Folder .032, Carleton College Archives. https://apps.carleton.edu/campus/library/now/news/?story_id=641857

Thanks to everyone who contributed ideas!

The BloggERS editorial team voted for the top three captions, and now we need your help choosing the winner. Cast your vote for your favorite caption by 5/6, and then we’ll announce the winner.

Caption These Bits! #2

All right, y’all, polish those puns: it’s time for Caption These Bits! round two!

Once a month, bloggERS invites readers to submit captions for images related to electronic records and the history of technology, sourced from archives around the world. Submit your caption below by 4/22. Digital archives, preservation, and curation humor encouraged.

We’ll choose three finalists and invite readers to vote for the winner.

This month’s image:

CarletonCollegeArchivesSource: 20110615_2_Computer_Equipment_2/data/originals/9440 from Collection ID: 3 Sub-Series 1968/69 Folder .032, Carleton College Archives. https://apps.carleton.edu/campus/library/now/news/?story_id=641857

CAPTION THESE BITS!

Caption These Bits! And the Winner Is…

Thanks to everyone who cast a vote in our inaugural caption contest.

Digital drumroll, please! [0110010001110010011101010110110101110010011011110110110001101100]

The winner is:

“Reading from PowerPoint – boring that guy in the back since 1958.”

Submitted by Lora Davis, Assistant Professor and Collections Archivist in the University Libraries, Colgate University. Congrats, Lora!

Stay tuned for the next installment of Caption These Bits!, and in the meantime, remember, RAMAC is ready to answer your questions.

First_National_Bank_computer_demonstration(1)

Source: N09-033_a, Tracy O’Neal Photographic Collection, 1923-1975, Photographic Collection. Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library. http://131.96.12.97/cdm/ref/collection/oneal/id/511 via DPLA: http://131.96.12.97/cdm/ref/collection/oneal/id/511