Are You The API Librarian Within Your Organization?

I think back regularly to my days as a database administrator in the 1990s, and the critical role I played in so many different organizations by being a keeper of the valuable data that was used to power the business. Over the years, I’ve seen this role done well and not so well at many different organizations across many different business sectors—a position that still holds a great deal of power today. However, the one big difference I see now, is that much of this power has been displaced, shifted, and distributed by exposing simple web APIs, making valuable data available across internal groups, amongst partners, and to 3rd party developers. Changing the balance of power, and opening up the opportunity for a new generation of users to emulate some of the realities that database administrators catered to, but often times it s something that is more about giving power to people who are closer to where the business action is, and moving things out of the classic IT departments where it has existed for decades.

As we’ve seen by the rise of Facebook, Twitter, and other data rich platforms, having access to relevant data at scale is where the new revenue opportunities are, which in turn has shifted where folks go for information, knowledge, and access to the power within an industry, or a specific organization. Moving databases online has changed how value is created, and power is amassed, something that web APIs has fueled, being behind almost every major shift in the technological landscape over the last 20 years. Making those who know how to discover, create, and put APIs to work part of the new class of player who gets to dictate what goes on in the web and mobile shifts in the business landscape. Elevating the relevance of those of who mind to the technical details of APIs we create and depend on within our organizations, making them the next generation of power brokers.

Knowing where the documented and undocumented APIs are across your organization is a difficult role to play. You have to be willing to spend time reverse engineering applications and system integrations, and blindly mapping out the unknown landscape that has emerged over the years across countless legacy projects. APIs get stood up intentionally for a variety of web, mobile, and device integrations, and unintentionally stood up as part of the default installation of applications that might not be fully understood, and having someone acting as the librarian for these APIs is becoming one of the more valuable things you can focus on as part of your API efforts. Things are moving fast, and APIs are often cast aside to make way for whatever the new priorities might be, even when the legacy APIs are still used and providing access to valuable resources. Sometimes the only person who is documenting and tending to these API stacks is the self-appointed API librarian who is more interested in the long tail of knowledge within an organization, than whatever the new hot trendy project might be.

Beyond the internal APIs, the individuals who are staying in tune with the external API landscape are also enjoying their own version of this power shift. These API savvy individuals are taking the time to educate themselves about the latest APIs out there, and which APIs have become indispensable to developers when it comes to getting things done. Becoming the go to people within their organizations when it comes to understanding where you can access critical resources like compute, storage, messaging, social, documents, and everything else you will need to get your job done, whether you are building an application, enriching the calculations in your spreadsheet, or make sure data exists within the SaaS solutions you depend on to accomplish your work business workflows. Being the person who is the keeper of the API knowledge, and can help you access the most relevant API services across a rising sea of API solutions, and avoid the most common pitfalls developers encounter when discovering, on-boarding, and relying upon 3rd party APIs.

I’ve taken pride in being the API librarian for the entire API sector since 2010. Knowing how to access the most relevant APIs out there like Amazon, Twitter, Stripe, and Twilio, but also knowing about the lesser known APIs like the Free Law Project, North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), or Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR). Which might be known within their respective industries, but have trouble getting attention within the louder API ecosystem, but still are relevant to the wider API conversation, and should be considered as part of our wider API toolbox. After almost a decade of acting as a librarian for API knowledge, I’m going to invest more in helping folks emulate what I do within specific industries, enterprise organizations, and government agencies. I’ve historically called these folks evangelists, but I’d say that knowing where resources are is becoming just as important as spreading the word about these resources. When it comes to agility, flexibility, efficiency, and security, knowing where your digital capabilities are is essential. If you don’t know where your API resources are and how they are being used (or not) within applications, you won’t be able to compete or keep up with other players, increasing the need for having API librarians who are dedicated and passionate about keeping track of all things API.  Are you the API librarian within your organization? If not, who is?