fellow update: code4lib 2015

Okay, so, February has not been a good month for blog updates or reading. But I did have the opportunity to attend Code4Lib 2015 in Portland! The atmosphere was reflective (this was the 10th year of C4L) and really fun. While conferences with different tracks and loads of presentations can be great, I really appreciated the single track style of C4L. I liked hearing complete talks (no fear of missing out!) and having a shared experience with other attendees.

I’ve been working on summarizing my experience since I got back and I’ve decided that, for me, the talks fit into two broad categories: teaching/learning/culture and ideas/projects/tools. 

In this post I’ve listed some of the highlights from each category. There were many other great talks and projects – the Code4Lib wiki has slides available for most of the presentations and lightning talks. Or check out the video of some of the talks.


What Beginners Teach Us: Selena Deckelmann, from Mozilla, was the opening keynote. She talked about the importance of welcoming beginners into the open source community. Her method of doing so is teaching coding skills to adults. I particularly liked that she noted the importance of not just learning a programming language, but creating an “informed public” that is empowered to understand the technology that influences so much of our lives. Teaching take-aways:

  • Before answering a question, think about how that beginner might feel when they hear your answer…. Importance of constructive feedback and empathy.
  • Never say “well, actually…” — Instead listen to the learners train of thought and ask questions to help bring them to the right place – which, for me, goes right along with reference interview 101… do not ever cut someone off! Let them finish, listen, listen, listen.
  • Never (ever!) act surprised when someone doesn’t know something. Be kind, just help them.

You’re Code Does Not Exist in A Vacuum: Becky Yoose laid out a dense talk about sociological implications of open source communities and the impact on a library technology community that is increasingly interested in open source software. She provided a critical look at the “Fail Fast, Fail Often” mindset of open source culture and how that type of mindset is tied to privilege and often clashes with the culture of the library technology community. In particular she noted:

  • the lack of time and resources in libraries (human and financial)
  • largely female work force – failure from women not as acceptable as it is for men. Ability to fail fast and often is bound to privilege of race, class, sex
  • Project jumping – bad for morale, bad for users when projects are abandoned, not always a good use of resources

The social hierarchy of open source culture also often places greatest emphasis and value on coders – while downplaying critical role of those who contribute in other ways (user testing, bug reports, documentation, maintainer). In a way, coding skills have become social/professional currency in libraries – are we okay with that? What does that mean for those who lack privilege of time and education to get those skills? In placing so much emphasis – what other valuable skills are we downplaying?

“In short, open source community and production structures have their costs and implications in libtech, even when we share and collaborate with the best intentions in mind.”

“As we ‘make things work,’ what kind of world are we making?” As we develop, hack, and tweak libtech – both software and community – what exactly is the world that we are making, and does it match the world we want to make?”

You can (and should!) read her full talk.

Managing a Digital Project team. Sibyl Schaefer. An excellent talk on goal setting and managing a digital projects team. Goals + values = consistency. Slides.

The $50,000 MLIS problem. Jennie Rose Halperin. A call for rethinking MLIS curriculum expectations as well as addressing rising tuition and lack of funding (yes, please!).  No slides available, but there was a lot of twitter conversations during this talk. One of Halperin’s main critiques was a need for more relevant and practical technology skills as a requirement (particularly programming skills) — I’m not sure making programs more ‘practical’ is the answer. Going too far into practical-land can lead to focusing too much on specific tools that are likely to change (especially in digital curation landscape)… rather than providing more transferable knowledge related to selection of technology, advocating for new technology with administrators, selecting open source vs. hosted, etc.  Regardless – this is an important conversation to have and one that I think many librarians and archivists are a little uncomfortable about confronting. Props to Jennie for speaking up!

Highlightsideas/projects/tools – In no particular order! 

Code Club  Coral Sheldon-Hess – Reading code makes for better coding skills! Creating reading group. Read together because: it’s more fun, learn how other colleagues approach similar problems, expose yourself to new languages, create ideas for testing new skills gained by reading code. Presentation Abstract

Linked Jazz Linked Data project – Bill Levay – “How can we take semi-structured but messy metadata from a repository like CONTENTdm and transform it into rich linked data?” Project website and Code4Lib presentation 

Pop Up Archive – Anne Wooten – “Making sound searchable” for spoken word content. Users upload audio files, the software then auto-transcribes, generates tags, and the content is keyword searchable to the second. About PopUp! Explore. C4L Abstract.

Choosing a digital book reader – Eben English  Talked about pros and cons of Internet Archive book reader, WDL viewer, Wellcome player, Diva.js, Mirador 2. Slides.

Beyond Open Source – Jason Casden and Bret Davidson – My notes from the Day Two afternoon sessions are so cryptic, but this was an interesting talk. Alas, no slides or video online. Bummer! Essentially, the presenters were acknowledging how difficult it is to go open source for many institutions and the need for solutions to help a variety of institutions implement some open source strategies. Presentation Abstract.

PreForma – Lightning talk – About the PreForma Project. From the website: “Aim of the project is to address the challenge of implementing good quality standardised file formats for preserving data content in the long term. The main objective is to give memory institutions full control of the process of the conformity tests of files to be ingested into archives.”

Mukurtu Lightning talk – I just love Mukurtu! Acknowledging differences in information sharing across cultures, particularly indigenous groups, is so important. Mukurtu is a CMS that allows for traditional knowledge licensing and multifaceted access permissions.

Archiving the Silenced  Lightning talk – Oral history project and other resources about eugenics practices in Canada in the 20th century. Project website

Okay, that’s it. I have to stop! That was a hard list to make. I’ll just leave you with a gif in true C4L style.

Goat sliding on ice gif

A cat gif might be the normal go to – but I went with this adorable goat a la DPLA’s metadata presentation. 🙂

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