What does it take to be a Webmaster?

A while back we ran a poll “Librarians as Webmasters” to see what LISNews readers thought of the move of librarians out of the library, and into the web world. More and more employers are realizing that it takes more than basic programming and graphics skills to make a complete web site. Employees (Webmasters) also need to be able to organize the ever increasing amounts of information on the web. Librarians are uniquely suited for such a job. Afterall, who can organize better than a librarian. So what does it take?

Being a webmaster takes a wide range of technical and people skills. You need the obvious techie skills, HTML, programming, and computer skills, but you also need to be able to work with people, and not the way a typical librarian works with people. I know that sounds like a horrible cliche, but it is true. As webmaster you will be pulled in a million directions by a thousand people. Marketing wants one thing, technology needs one thing, and upper management needs another. Being able to deal with the entire organization requires some serious patience and social skills. In many ways you could be the central point of the organization. So what is a webmaster?

A very simple and generic definition for a webmaster is a person who is responsible for developing and maintaining a web site. Being a webmaster takes many skills. Some of the technical skills a webmaster should have are:

  • knowledge of html
  • a good knowledge of aesthetic design
  • graphic skills
  • ability to solve problems
  • programming experience.

While in the past programming experience was considered helpful but not necessary, this is no longer so. Web sites are becoming more depedant on back end coding every day.

Some languages which are good to serve as a foundation for a webmaster position are Java, Javascript, Visual Basic, PHP and Perl.

In our opinion, one personality skill that would be beneficial for a webmaster position is a person who likes dealing with data and structures. Especially important would be someone who is a “tinkerer”. Much of programming and web design is fixing problems, and tinkering with work someone else has already done. Other traits that would be helpful are the desire to learn new technologies, ability to be flexible, open-minded, and be a creative thinker.

A webmaster\'s duties and responsibilites can vary to reflect the specific needs of a company. For example, a webmaster\'s role for an e-commerce company can be very different from that of a library\'s web site. Some positions may require strong graphics skills (Photshop and Illustrator) and others may require strong programming skills. The position of webmaster could change rapidly in the future with the proliferation of new technologies.

The responsibilities of webmasters can include such things as:

  • Keeping up to date with new technologies and web development
  • Coding HTML
  • Designing web graphics
  • Creating forms using CGI
  • Writing technical reports
  • Designing web pages for internal/external departments within a company
  • Training others in a company to construct web pages

Many webmasters are self-taught and some seem to fall into the position by accident. A librarian can start on the path to becoming a webmaster by volunteering to work on the home page for their library or learn about new web technologies and use these skills to create different types of web pages. A good way for librarians to market their webmaster skills is to build a portfolio of work they have done. Employers always want to see the work you have done. You can hide your name in the code if you are not allowed to put it on the site , or, include your name on the bottom of every page you create and market your web sites.

There is an excellent collection of Links for Webmasters at http://www.metronet.lib.mn.us/libpage/ and this site covers everything from general guides, html and graphics to how to administer your web site to how to make it interactive.

We believe more and more librarians will become webmasters in the future as new technologies emerge and old ones fade away. Librarians must not be reluctant to change and never lose sight of the fact that we are in a profession that is based on the concept of learning information and new technology.

If you are considering being a webmaster, stayin current is easy by reading up on the web. Read up on XML, XHTML, and other upcoming languages. Get yourself a copy of Photoshop, and learn it well. Most of all, just sit down and start making web pages!

Susan McClellan wrote this story, with a little help from Blake.