By Hugh Rundle, Manager, Digital Innovation, La Trobe University Library
Several years ago I created an aggregator service for blogs by Australasian GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums) workers. Initially this was a simple Twitter bot, but later I built a web application that eventually allowed blog authors to register their blog, and readers to search by keyword, browse by tag, or subscribe to new posts via RSS or directly into their Pocket list, including the ability to filter out content they may be less interested in. If you’re interested in what Australian librarians are thinking and talking about, this is now a useful place to look.
Last year I wrote about re-building Aus GLAM Blogs from scratch when I had developed more knowledge and skills. Developing the app in incremental stages meant that it wasn’t completely overwhelming. This sort of project-based learning approach can be used in many contexts, but is particularly useful when building your digital skills. Creating a web application meant I needed to host it somewhere, which led to learning about Linux server management. Gradually increasing the scope of the application led to developing an understanding of how databases and software applications interact. Re-writing the entire thing led me to consider problems of data normalisation and to what extent it is useful and acceptable.
Scaffolding my own learning like this has enabled me to slowly build a technical skillset around computer programming and server management, and think more deeply about the sort of data management questions colleagues working with library metadata have to deal with every day. I will never consider myself an “expert” in coding or server administration, but through a personal project I’ve been able to build my knowledge over time. For a while this was simply to amuse myself, but I now find myself in a library job where these skills are really useful and help me to look at problems in a different way.
Your own interests may be different. Perhaps you want to be able to make animated videos, or build your own computer from parts, or fancy being the in-house Excel macro expert. If you’ve been telling yourself that you’re “just not a technical person” or you will “never be able to do it”, I don’t believe you. The trick is to find some small projects – ideally personal ones where there are few consequences of failure – and work on them because you’re interested in the actual thing you are making. It’s surprising how much you can learn “accidentally” just by focussing on what you want to create rather than on the skills themselves. Then, simply increase your ambition for the next project, and the next one, and the next one.
Oh, and don’t forget to share it in a blog post so the rest of the library world can share your learning journey!