My LIS Preparation for a Web Developer Career

Analytical Reaction Paper One by Zach Tomaszewski

for LIS 610, Spring 2001, taught by donna Bair-Mundy

Table of Contents

Intended Information Setting

My goal is a career in web development. Though this is still a very new profession, it is already quickly broadening to include specialized subdivisions such as e-commerce, information architecture, content development, web usability, and graphical interface design. Though I imagine I will eventually specialize, I am currently looking forward to being a jack-of-all-trades; I'd like to freelance or work for a small company. Though Library and Information Science is a rather unconventional path to take (as if the web really has evolved to the point of conventional career paths), after one and a half terms in the UH program, I still find this to a good route to becoming an adroit web developer.

Role of Web Developers

Basically, web developers build interfaces and resources that allow people to easily find information, products, or services. This may translate into an e-commerce website for a small business or an online database for a research company. This definition is quite similar to the purpose given by Kathleen Robertson for special libraries: "to collect, analyze, evaluate, package, and disseminate information to facilitate accurate decision-making."[1]. As customers become more informed, enlightened businesses are realizing that an honest, detailed description of their products, rather than fluffy hype, is the best tactic for securing a solid customer base. So web developers must provide information while still keeping a user's attention and promoting sales with an attractive and easy to use interface.

Necessary (Library) Skills Needed

As I already mentioned, web developers fill many roles, especially in a small organization. This is not unlike a librarian in a small library, who has to handle the information desk, cataloging, the computer network, management, customer service, and various patron-oriented programs. As a developer, I would like to generally focus on content and usability over entertainment and graphics. As such, I see a need for the following library-oriented skills.

Developing Hierarchies

Like cataloging or classification, the most important part of providing information is figuring out how to help people find what they need. Different people vary in their world views and how they organize things [2]. To design a navigation structure for various actual users, a designer should empirically test various possibilities [3] and use one with the best results for the most people. As much as possible, there needs to be multiple routes to the same information, which is currently a surprisingly under-used feature of the new web-like information struct ure.

Perfecting Databases

Online databases should have the features that users need, such the option to search any field, even though this may seem a strange need from the view of the developer. Searching features should be sufficiently flexible, perhaps including truncation, wildcards, or Boolean operators. Database fields need to be appropriately labeled and browsable. Content should be consistent, perhaps through the use of authority files [4]. These considerations are all quite familiar to librarians.

Accessible Design

Ideally, web sites should be as accessible as public libraries to all parts of society [5]. Usually this is closely tied to usability, since the features that make an interface easier for those with handicaps often also make things easier for those without.


To an even higher degree than librarians, web developers need to keep abreast with the latest operating systems, computer languages, and mark-up languages. Operating systems include: Unix, Linux, Mac, Windows 95/98/2000/NT, BeOS, PalmOS, etc. Some web-oriented computer languages and software include: Perl/CGI/SSI, PHP, ASP, JSP, Java, JavaScript, VBScript, ColdFusion, Oracle, and SQL. Mark-up is generally involves either HTML, XHTML, XML, RDF or CSS. Any job description or want ad to do with the web is rife with these various esoteric acronyms.

And More

There are many other skills web developers share with librarians. Both should be aware of copyright and intellectual property rights. Both need to market themselves effectively in order to get customers and to keep them in the face of so many alternative information sources. Both need to engage in some professional networking to share thoughts and keep their own ideas fresh. Both need continuing education to stay knowledgeable of the most appropriate technology available. In some cases, web developers and librarians will even use the same channels to fill these needs.

An Illustration

After surfing, I think I am correct in drawing these comparisons between web developers and librarians. Job descriptions required that applicants be able to "evaluate and select vendors and manage chosen vendors through the completion of the development process" and to "identify, analyze, disseminate information, and create recommendations on new and emerging technologies." [6]. They should be "skilled at conducting [themselves] with professional diplomacy and demeanor" and possess "strong verbal communication skills"[7]. These are certainly librarian skills.

Besides the skills, even the actual MLIS degree should be helpful to me:

Requires Bachelor's degree in information systems, computer science, math or related area with 3 years experience in development of information systems, analysis and programming. Salary to $74,380. [8]

It's fun to think that, after two more years of job experience, I might be over-qualified for this one!

Professional Organizations

There are a variety of different organizations to help web developers. There are the defining and standards organizations, such as W3C, ICANN, and IEEE, though most common web developers do not or are not eligible to join these directly.

There are few scholarly, journal-publishing web developer organizations. ASIST is probably the most related with respect to content.

There are, however, many web developer sites that include articles, tutorials, and reviews. For example,,,, and WebMonkey are all good sites. Each as a slightly different perspective on things. It seems every developer has his or her favorite stop among such sites.

Also it is possible to get certified by many of the major software or hardware manufactures, such as Microsoft, or Sun. This still seems somewhat odd to me--like a librarian getting certified by publishing and database companies--yet these certificates do carry a lot of weight in the field.

Preparing Myself

The most important thing I am doing to prepare is trying to develop good habits. I surf web developer sites (like the ones mentioned above) to keep an eye on any new developments and to serendipitously pick up a few tips. I have a stack of books on various web-related topics, and I am in the process of compiling a personal bibliography to keep track of them. I'm slowly working through the pile, taking notes and learning languages Sadly, it is all going rather slowly. Though the languages themselves are important, I know that the field is growing too fast to ever be on top of them all. Instead, I would like the habit of constantly a new language or technology, as my work dictates.

Besides these technical details, I am trying to keep a broad perspective. I have read good histories of the web [9] and occasionally visit W3C to keep track of general trends in standards. Based on this reading, I think that things are moving towards XML and document objects. That is, data will be marked up in XML, which will be understood through XML schemas and RDF metadata. To be displayed, the XML will either be translated to HTML or rendered with style sheets such as CSS and XSL. Blocks of data will be treated more as objects with certain states and defined ways of being manipulated. Interactivity will be through object-oriented scripting languages. I haven't started learning any of the specific technologies involved in all this just yet. But at least I know where to go next: XML and object-oriented programming.

I have taken a couple ICS classes to get the computer or system-centered view of things. I also have a couple LIS699 Directed Reading classes in the works: Java and Its Usefulness in Libraries and Building Better Web Interfaces: JavaScript, DHTML, and Usability.

And of course I'm getting some experience by actually designing webpages. I maintain a site for my LIS work, run an online retail business, and, occasionally, update a personal site of odds and ends. I also design pages for small business. I am trying to spend more of my time working on these things. I am also starting to surf online contractor sites and jobs ads for possible future work.


Frequently it seems that web developers are esteemed mainly by the number of computer language acronyms they can list in their resume. These computer skills are certainly necessary and I am working hard to acquire them. Yet they can be learned through a few good books. I also want to have a broad perspective of where the web is going, to be aware of the final user, to know my place in the community, to consider the affect of information needs of people, and to tie these realizations together into more enlightened web designs. I continue to develop these insights through the Library and Information Science program.


(Click on an endnote number to return to the associated point in the text.)

1   Robertson, Kathleen. Guest class lecture. LIS 610. University of Hawaii-Manoa, Honolulu, HI. 14 Feb 2001.

2   Bair-Mundy, donna. Class lecture. LIS 610. University of Hawaii-Manoa, Honolulu, HI. 31 Jan 2001.

3   Nahl, Diane. "The User-Centered Revolution: 1970-1995." Encyclopedia of Microcomputers, vol. 19, 1995. Online version:

4   Jacsó, Péter, and F. W. Lancaster. Build your own database. Chicago: American Library Association, 1999.

5   Morris, Robin, Stacy Judy, and Zach Tomaszewski. Group discussion. LIS 610. University of Hawaii-Manoa, Honolulu, HI. 7 Feb 2001.

6   " Jobs Offered -- Programming and Technical." <> Accessed: 20 Feb 2001.

7   " Jobs Offered -- XML and XHTML." <> Accessed: 20 Feb 2001.

8   " Jobs Offered -- PR and Search Engine Submissions." <> Accessed: 20 Feb 2001.

9   Berners-Lee, Tim. Weaving the Web : the original design and ultimate destiny of the World Wide Web by its inventor. San Francisco: Harper Publishing, 1999.