Roy Tennant recently published a short article called Why You Should Not Learn HTML. It generated a lot of comments and discussion, because much like many of the commentators, I don’t agree.
An Essential Skill
He does note that he’s still encouraging students to learn it if they want to add more skills to their resume, and that of course, anyone who’s job focuses on technology should learn it.
No doubt, a lot librarians don’t know HTML and can get away with it, especially because most of our software and web services have rich text/WYSIWYG editors, but I could never endorse a message that makes it sound like it’s not an essential skill.
As a librarian who plans to continue to work in libraries, I consider cataloguing essential knowledge. A lot of librarians can get away with not learning it, especially with copy cataloguing and the fact that it’s a more specialized area, but it doesn’t mean I don’t think we should learn at least a basic amount. Similarly, I consider HTML something essential to know at the introductory level even if a person never really uses it.
The Software Doesn’t Always Work or Do It All
A lot of rich text editors have quirks that aren’t always easy to work with, and more importantly, won’t necessarily include everything you want.
Take the WordPress editor for example (which I’m using right now to write this blog post). If you copy/paste a bullet point and paste it in a bulleted list, it creates a new bullet list with that one point rather than pasting it as a point inside of the original bulleted list. There are a couple of other quirky things about the WP editor.
WordPress also purposely excludes some HTML that is commonly used. In particular, tables aren’t included in the visual editor. Makes sense to me, but it means that when someone actually wants to display tabular data, they either have to make it in Word then copy/paste it using the ‘Paste from Word’ feature or write it by hand.
Others Don’t Always Have Time
One of the main reasons we moved to a CMS is so that our staff wouldn’t have to ask someone else to change the smallest things. So far, it’s been a great success, but I still get phone calls especially around making and editing tables. If those people had just the basic amount of HTML training, they could easily edit it without messing anything up after I make the initial table.
So, while I don’t expect (or even suggest) staff to be creating whole websites or complex pages, I do expect our staff to be able to use the editor and edit what they need to in HTML mode properly.
Save Time & Feel That Satisfaction
By learning a basic level of HTML, library staff (because it’s not just librarians that do web content editing) can save time not having to ask spend all the time explaining their problem for something that takes 2 seconds to fix.
I’ve also heard from a lot of people that they simply feel a great level of satisfaction being able to fix their own problems when it’s actually very simple. Empower your users!