Code4Lib 2012: Conference Reflections

For those unfamiliar with Code4Lib, it is generally described as a community of computer programmers who work in information organizations, primarily libraries (2007 Code4Lib Conference Report, 2007). While geared towards programmers, the community has expanded to include many who are not coders, but have some background and a great interest in computers and technology in information organizations. To learn more: take a look at the journal, check out the website, follow the Twitter feed, sign up for the mailing list, or lurk in the IRC channel.

Pre-Conference

There were so many pre-conference sessions that I wanted to attend or at least sit in on. While some of the sessions were workshop-like where a speaker presented for (more than) half the time and there was some hands on activity afterwards, others were very much a facilitated discussion, similar to a breakout session.

The metadata session was quite interested as there were many people who were neither coders, nor cataloguers present. Honestly, I think the big takeaway at the end of the session was that cataloguers and coders need to talk to each other (not at each other) and try to understand that neither can simply work ‘magic’.

Metadata Preconference

I also got the chance to go across the river on the Microsoft Tour in the evening, where a group of us got to see prototypes of technologies they are working on and play with some of them. There were also presentations on some of the open projects they are working on, including Microsoft Academic Search, which looks like a nicer version of Google Scholar. If they get library full text linking, I think it could be pushed out fairly easily for mass use.

Washington River

Keynotes

The keynotes were so thought provoking. While Dan Chudnov’s keynote touched on his life lessons and the need for change for the conference, Bethany Nowviskie’s keynotediscussed the need for lazy consensus in our work place. Seemingly different topics, but I think they both touch on an issue that has been driving change in some organizations, or simply being ignored at others (or somewhere in between). Libraries (and other information organizations) and its people need to change and evolve in order to continually find its place among the world and how they play a role in people’s lives. Part of adapting is to attempting to keep up with the world as it changes – technological, culturally, socially, economically – but also being flexible enough to accommodate our own changing organization and work environment. While change is rarely easy, we can become so much better by embracing it.

Dan Chudnov - Keynote #1

Conference Presentations

While some of the presentations were honestly too code-centric or technical for me to truly comprehend, I learnt about new tools and got a lot of great ideas. I also realized that I should really acquire more programming knowledge and skills. I have as a result started CodeYear though I’m a bit behind.

Lightning talks are probably my favourite part of the conference since we get to hear about so many new ideas and projects that we might otherwise not hear about. As part of that, I think many will agree that the Code4Lib Japan team presented some of the most impressive projects especially surrounding the disaster relief efforts, and creating a meta-OPAC to search and provide information on all of Japan’s libraries. They also showed great courage in presenting in English (as many of us have enough difficulty presenting in our native language).

While completely nervous, it was also fun to get an opportunity to do a lightning talk myself on Processing.js, which I’ve honestly never used but am excited about having seen some of the projects made with it. Maybe next time I should do it on Popcorn Maker (if they get it into beta) or one of the projects I expect to be working on this year.

Ask Anything was also a great session where I got to ask about how others are implementing a wayfinding tool as we would like to do. Of course, the mailing list is also a great place for that, and I now have lots of reading to do (in addition to the CSS3 book I won!). Some of the presentations have also given me further ideas on what might be done (better) at our institution, and I hope to have to the chance to implement at least some of them.

Social Events


I can’t talk about Code4Libcon and not mention the social events. As a first timer, it can be tough to feel like you belong, especially when you’re the only one from your institution, so it was great that there were organized dinners/groups, especially the newcomer dinner. There was lots of great food that was eaten and awesome company to have interesting discussions. Hopefully with having chosen slightly farther places, I walked it all off! I also enjoyed the after dinner socials including the beer drink up (even though I don’t drink beer), which was a great opportunity to talk to people since there’s usually too many things going on during the day to truly have the chance.

Connections

While the presentations were great, the socials were fun, and the backchannels (Twitter and IRC) provided links and laughs, what I have taken away from the conference of the utmost importance are the connections I have made with people, whether it be to learn more about tools we would like to build, to stalk follow them because of their interesting tweets, or simply to keep in touch because I had an interesting conversation with them. Dan hit the nail on the head when he said that we come for the people. (We love you too, Dan.)

On an interesting side note, while it was not intentional, my blog saw a major spike in activity due to my blogging on the conference (peak of 590 in a day!). I honestly primarily did it for myself, but I am glad that people have found it useful and its flattering to see so many people visit. I have edited them and added as many links and presenter slides/videos as possible to help those who could not attend (and would prefer not to sit through the video archive).

Acknowledgements

This was my first Code4Lib Conference and only my second conference. I am very happy that I got the opportunity to attend, which I could not have done without the support of my supervisor and institution, and especially the Oregon State University and the Digital Library Federation who sponsored five Minority and Gender Diversity Scholarships, one of which I received. I was particularly grateful of the fact that the scholarship was not geared for students, but for those in need of funding, which frequently applies to new graduates or term employees (or both, which is where I fit in).

(Some of the) C4L12 Organizers

Thanks again to all the hosts, organizers, volunteers, speakers, A/V guy, social event leaders, and everyone else who made the conference possible. I look forward to 2013 in Chicago!

Aerial view

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