Here’s something you may or may not know about me: I’m not that great with computers.
I mean, sure – I’m pretty much my family’s expert in setting up your wireless printer, posting your stuff to social media, and basic Photoshop skills. I’ve been helping my mother with making her Excel spreadsheet charts for years, making Powerpoints look awesome (though my new choice of presentation is Prezi) from classes like English to Music, and serving as a social media coordinator for a few businesses and my own digital persona.
But this has all been trial-and-error for me, and for the most part, I don’t really consider myself at an “expert” level. Most of the so-called “computer skills” I’ve acquired are simply part of being a digital native in today’s culture (which is an entirely different subject that I’m not going to get into today.)
When it comes to [what I consider] the important aspects of computer – the building and creating and coding – I have absolutely no background in. It’s something I’m certainly interested in – and a digital humanist, I kinda should be – but it’s something I prefer to leave to the compsci majors and read about its effects in Doctorow books.
So this week, when my supervisor at the NBWH Archives asked me if I had any experience in coding, I had to be honest – I had no idea. Up until THATCamp, I hadn’t heard of XML before – only the more commonly discussed HTML. The two look similar (at least, to my untrained eye) but serve two different purposes. In short, HTML is a way for the computer to understand what to show on the screen; XML is a way for the coder to understand the context of the information. Essentially, XML serves as the middle man between me and the computer – making sure that we both understand we’re talking about.
For this reason, XML is great for archivists – archivists care about preservation of meaning. In my case, I’m using XML to display the finding aid I created for Mss 131 – without it, the importance of categories and structure (or meaning of the text) would be lost.
Thankfully, my supervisor was very helpful in explaining the purpose and the practice of XML. At first glance, the coding looked strange – lots of <> or </> across the screen. But after viewing the structure and going through the process of generating this information, I started to get the hang of how XML works. I’m about halfway through the code right now – please wish me luck!