A computational approach

Last updated on 2023-09-18 | Edit this page

Estimated time: 30 minutes



  • Why take an automated or computational approach?


  • Understand the main lessons of why you might automate your work.

Why take an automated or computational approach?

Otherwise known as the ‘why not do it manually?’ question. There are plenty of times when manual work is the easiest, fastest and most efficient approach. Here are two conditions that should make you consider using automation:

  • You know how to automate the task.
  • You think this is a task you will do over and over again.

Main lessons:

  • Borrow, borrow, and borrow again. This is a mainstay of programming and a practice common to all skill levels, from professional programmers to people like us hacking around in libraries;
  • The correct language to learn is the one that works in your local context. There truly isn’t a best language, just languages with different strengths and weaknesses, all of which incorporate the same fundamental principles;
  • Consider the role of programming in professional development. Computational skills improve your efficiency and effectiveness. Stay alert to skills you want to learn, and be aware of what skills you can make sure your staff learn, as well.
  • Knowing (even a little) code helps you evaluate projects that use code. Programming can seem alien. Knowing some code makes you better at judging the quality of software development or planning activities that include software development.
  • Automate to make the time to do something else! Taking the time to gather together even the most simple programming skills can save time to do more interesting stuff! (even if often that more interesting stuff is learning more programming skills …)

Why automate?

Automation refers to a process or procedure that runs with little to no supervision or action. Libraries have been automating workflows for years and many of the Library Carpentry lessons can help people in libraries consider and implement automation approaches to further those efforts. You may often receive reports that you have to manually format or bibliographies where you have to clean metadata. If this sounds familiar, the tools and approaches introduced in Library Carpentry will help you automate and spend less time on these activities.

Is it worth the time

‘Is it worth the time?’ by Randall Munroe available at https://xkcd.com/1205/ under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.

Is there something you would like to automate in your work?

Discuss in groups of four to six or altogether and note your discussion in the workshop collaborative document.

Key Points

  • The main lessons of why you might automate or take a computational approach can help guide you as you consider whether to automate or not.