code4lib 2014: An Amazing Time

code4lib T-shirt created by Chris Markman (Clark University)

As a recipient of one of 9 diversity scholarships, I was able to attend code4lib in Raleigh, North Carolina from March 24-27th.

This 9th annual conference was, in short, amazing. Not only did I attend and learn about a wide variety of technologies and software projects used in academic institutions in the US and aboard, I was able to network with a wide variety of librarians who employ computer programming at all levels for their daily work.

Just to give you some background, code4lib started as a mailing list in the fall of 2003 and eventually grew into a community of librarians, hackers, designers, architects, curators, catalogers, and artists. This eventually turned into a (still very active) IRC channel, a journal, and annual conferences, where these library code practitioners freely share techniques and code under various open source licenses.

This particular conference was very different from other library and higher ed conferences that I have attended in the past. There were many preconference programs, some themes included hacking Open Refine, Responsive Design, Blacklight, RailsBridge, project management, failed projects, computational linguistics, GeoHydra, file analysis, social media data collection, archival discovery, and test driven web development. What I found most useful was the libtechgender preconference session.

The #libtechwomen/#libtechgender session of the difficulties that women and underrepresented voices in technology and librarianship face. It was a very enlightening experience, as I’ve only had discussions like these in activist/social justice circles from ym time as an undergraduate and graduate student. Some of the important take backs include conferences adopting a codes of conduct, ensuring safe spaces, mentoring, and ally support. I was also very lucky to be asked to run a half-hour session on being a good backup which is based out of the backup ribbon project. The greatest take-away was having a very enlightening conversations on these topics, as they may not be necessarily addressed (and at worst ignored) at a tech conference.

The keynote speaker was Sumana Harihareswara, senior technical writer for Wikipedia, which tied usability and user experience as a social justice issue. She gave several examples of the importance of usability across many different services, including the many steps to borrow an eBook at NYPL to the difficulty of using PGP. This really resonated with me, since usability is a core function of my job and other librarians. Users need to find information to better empower themselves. How can this be done if we lack the proper usable systems for them to access? Having diverse perspectives on your library usability team creates empathy, which in turn allows developers and librarians to have the perspective of the user.

The other take-away is that librarians and library developers are passionate about their users. There were multiple UX related presentations and projects, most of which were to not only make systems usable and accessible, but to make them interactive with and immerse the user.

Engy Morsy’s¬†presentation on the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Book Viewer Framework project in Egypt

Bohyun Kim’s presentation on using Google spreadsheets as an ad-hoc database/chart creator

Jason Ronnallo’s mind blowing presentation of using socket.io for real-time interactivity

Real-time discovery systems by Godmar Back and Annette Bailey

Bess Sadler’s amazing presentation of sustainable ope-source projects and its ties into gender and tech.

Bret Davidson’s great analogy of pasta and good programming practices.

Other highlights:

Networking at the Newcomer Dinner

Touring the NCSU’s Hunt Library

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