I've been asked "why do you write software?" a lot in my career, and particularly in my position here as Director of Scholarly Technology at GW Libraries, where we do write a lot of software. For me, the answer is simple, and it's the same answer I've always given, since I first went to library school: it is the work of a librarian to write software. This has always seemed natural and clear to me, but I understand that it's not obvious to everyone, especially in a broader organizational context.
So why is it important to have staff at a research library with appropriate skills and experience tasked with writing software?
First, navigating through the many information resources we provide -- both online and on our shelves -- isn't easy. GW Libraries, like many research libraries, provides access to hundreds of online databases, thousands of online journals, and millions of physical items. To help people find what they need quickly, we have to offer the clearest possible paths for everyone to navigate for themselves. Recently we wrote a software application that provides a new quick search box on our site at http://library.gwu.edu/ that searches a wide range of sources at once, and more importantly, it searches a range of types of sources at once. This helps anyone searching our site to make two quick choices: what kind of resource they're looking for, and where to go within that category of resources to dig deeper. This isn't a new idea - many of our peer institutions offer similar services, and we credit NCSU Libraries with pioneering this concept. But all of our libraries subscribe to different sources, and to put them all together in a way that made the most sense for GWU, we wrote our own software. Over time, the sources themselves will change, but now we have the ability to adapt our application to new content over time without having to sacrifice the now-improved experience of finding information through GW Libraries.