Digital Skill Landscape for Librarians in Digital Scholarship and Digital Humanities

The Case for Digital Skills Development for Librarians

Digital skills are increasingly in demand from the 21st century workplace while the digital divide continues to widen and this is a key concern as libraries seek to support the needs of their communities and pursue professional development.  Marketplace Tech recently interviewed Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Mark Muro about this topic and the content of a 2017 report that he and his colleagues wrote called Digitalization and the American Workforce. The Marketplace segment focused on the part of the report that shows how the digital divide is widening between rural and urban areas. Librarians are always looking for ways to bridge the digital divide for their communities and one way to do this is through professional development.

The broader focus of the report analyzed how digital skill levels changed in 545 different occupations from 2002 to 2016. 517 of the 545 occupations had an increase in digital skills including Librarians (Figure 1) and Library Technicians (Figure 2) based on a digital score between 0-100. Both Librarians and Library Technicians moved from the medium range to the high range scoring between 60-100 with Librarians at 65.9 (+27%) and Library Technicians at 62 (+35%) moving up from their 2002 scores of 52 and 45.8 respectively.

Figure 1 - Librarian

Figure 1 – Librarian | Courtesy of The Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program

Figure 2 - Library Technicians

Figure 2 – Library Technicians | Courtesy of The Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program

The area of digital scholarship in librarianship is one manifestation of these changes in academic libraries. It is becoming more likely that a librarian will be asked to create a database in addition to being able to search them. It is increasingly likely that librarians will be asked to teach the use of digital creation tools like timelines, maps, and digital archives as well as the consumption of information from the outcomes of these tools. The Digital Scholarship resource page at the Library of Congress Labs is a great example of this trend in librarianship and is full of great resources to get started including Eileen Jakeway’s Digital Scholarship 101, that focusing on six digital tools that are relatively easy to learn.

Some more advanced tools that are worth learning that are not on the Library of Congress Digital Scholarship page are programming languages Python and the R Project for Statistical Computing, or just R, that can be used for text mining or data visualization projects. They are both a big part of data science and involved in many digital scholarship and digital humanities projects. An R user and researcher, Robert Muenchen, published a report, The Popularity of Data Science Software,  tracking the most popular data science software in job postings and in scholarly literature. Figure 3 shows the results of his study of data science-related job postings on in February 2017 and highlights where Python and R fall on that list.

popular data science software in job postings

Figure 3 | Chart copied from Muenchen’s site on November 2018 and I added highlights to Python and R.

Figure 4 shows the prevalence of R and Python in the scholarly literature through the whole year of 2016.

occurance of R and Python in scholarly literature during 2016

Figure 4 | Chart copied from Muenchen’s site on November 2018 and I added highlights to Python and R.

Free Resources to Learn R and Python

With these trends in mind there are many resources a Librarian can seek out to develop skills in these areas. To learn R or Python within the context of digital scholarship and digital humanities, Programming Historian, is an excellent source of tutorials to learn some of these skills from the perspective of fields that do not typically have computer programming experience. To get a deeper understand of Python while starting out as a beginner, Automating the Boring Stuff with Python, by Al Sweigart is a great free textbook with quality exercises and explanations. Code Academy’s free Python tutorial is an easy way to get some experience with Python without having to load it onto your computer. I was also reminded by a colleague about Python Anywhere, which is a free online platform that has the environment set up with different versions of Python and a place to store your code files. It works very well for workshops, tutorials, and classwork because it is web-based and avoids some of the pitfalls of loading Python onto a personal computer or onto shared, enterprise computers.

Subscription-based Resources to Learn R and Python

If you have access to through your institution or local library, it has a rich variety of video tutorials to learn about data science, Python (my playlist), and R (my playlist).

Note: [post updated Jan 2, 2019 with Python Anywhere mention]


1. Blogging & Registering | 23 Mobile Things

23 Mobile Things by the Minnesota Multitype Multicounty Library Systems

23 Mobile Things by the Minnesota Multitype Multicounty Library Systems

1. Blogging & Registering.

I am deeply appreciative to the Minnesota Multitype Multicounty Library Systems for facilitating this shared learning experience for librarians across the State. The shift in technology from desktop to mobile computing is permeating a larger portion of our communities and this is a very timely opportunity to get a better grasp of specific applications and a general knowledge of this important trend.

While I have some experience with applications I use on a personal basis, I want to learn more about mobile tools that can be used professionally.

As a side note, the blog I chose to use is on WordPress, which is on the same platform as the 23 Moblie Things website. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that the “Press This” button on the bottom of each post allows me to quickly post each of the Things on my own blog.

What better way to learn than with a bunch of librarians and kindred spirits!

Stanford Computer Science Class for Free Professional Development

NPR featured the consortium of top Universities that are partnering to provide some of their courses for free to anyone who wants to take them. The start-up is called Coursera and it features a wide range of courses from the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Natural Sciences from Stanford, University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan, Princeton University.

This struck me as a great opportunity for some professional development. I’ve wanted to devote some time to learning more about computer programming and to beef up my knowledge of the foundational principles of my IT colleagues as well. The Computer Science 101 course from Stanford beginning April 23 looked like a good bet.

I signed on to Coursera and completed the first week’s lectures and assignments and was impressed. The lecture video and corresponding documents were well laid out and included quizzes and exercises within to engage and test what students’ retained. I learned some basic coding and also developed a better understanding of the nuts and bolts of digital images; giving me a glimpse of how the underlying code of software like Adobe Photoshop would work.

Computer Science 101 Stanford University

I would recommend this course, Computer Science 101 by Nick Parlante to any librarian who is interested in developing their understanding of computers and how they work. If you want to be a digital librarian or become a better one, I encourage you to join me on this journey in the class itself or at the blog where I am documenting what I’ve learned –

Learning 2.0 Outside of Libraries?

Michael Stephens posted part of a proposal to measure the effect of Learning 2.0 in Libraries and I wish him the best of luck.  Since the program began with Helene Blowers in 2006 it has been adopted by close to 1000 organizations worldwide proving that it is clearly a success in the library world. Why should we stop there?

Libraries are not the only groups that are struggling to understand the effect of Web 2.0.  The structure of Learning 2.0 provides the space for people to learn at their own pace and join a community of learners.  Why not open this opportunity to a larger community?  Librarians could lead the way in educating their communities about these tools.  For academic libraries, workshops centered around Learning 2.0 could be a valuable service for faculty or students.  Public libraries could extend this to the general public or specific communities like small businesses.

Has any library used Learning 2.0 as an outreach tool?  I would love to know.

Thing 27: Twitter



This is my most recent Tweet:

Bah! Still working on twitter entry on 23 things. I’m hopeful that I will get it done tonight.

Even though I’ve had a Twitter account for a while I haven’t done much with it, which was exceedingly clear when I read all the things that can be done with it.  Using the Twitter Search service and the @[enter person’s ID here] was a great tip.  I even found a tweet directed at me from a friend that I had missed a month ago.

There are so many services that build on Twitter’s platform to provide rich functionality.  I didn’t use Twitter much until I began to use the social bookmarking site called Diigo.  It is like Delicious but has added features including a box that you can click which will send the item you’ve bookmarked to your Twitter account too.  Very cool.

I use Twitter as another holding space for cool links I find.  Libraries can use it this way too.  It is also really useful as an outreach device for new services, events and featured items. Llibraries could also collect other relevant Twitter accounts for their users.  I found that the Minneapolis/St Paul Business Journal has a Twitter account to send out news updates which could be very useful to Business professors and students.

Thing 26: Joining Ning

Ning logo

Ning logo

I didn’t do the first round so this is my first time using Ning. I have seen it used by others before but never joined one until now.

It is a great tool if a large community is using it for communication and collaboration. If the group is too small then it loses its usefulness but for larger groups, like this cohort of 23 Thingers, the 23 Things Ning, is a great resource.

I could envision using this for our College as a faculty-library community to support liaison activities. People can communicate and share resources from anywhere. I like the flexibility to share photos, videos, and form discussion groups based on any member’s interest.

Thing 25: Blogger's Toolkit

This step was worth it for the link to 20 Usability Tips for Your Blog alone.  I would have left the Archives widget in because it came with the theme I chose as a default but this post helped me to think that topics are much more important than date in a blog like this.  It saved me from wasting valuable space.

Feedburner was another one of the 20 tips I acted on because I have seen the bloggers that I read use it and I wondered what  benefits it provided.  I learned that it is really helpful to track your subscriptions and also helps you to more easily distribute your content. I don’t expect this blog to have a large readership but I do want to experiment with this tool.

One of the reasons that I chose WordPress as a blog platform was because it already has SnapShots embedded.  It saves your users time because they can preview a link before they commit to loading the full page.

The photo and audio features are also useful.  I have used many of the photo items before but I hadn’t used PicApp. Since I am in Minnesota, I found a hockey image to get into the spirit.

The audio tools would be nice but my webcam went on the fritz and I have no way of recording my voice.  Alas.