Friday, March 28, 2014

Why the Code4Lib Community & Conference?

So I just finished up an amazing week for Code4Lib 2014 here in (an unseasonably cool) Raleigh, NC. It’s been great. I have so much to post about it. But for the uninitiated, here’s my C4L primer and the explanation of the group’s value to me (and for so many of my colleagues around the world).
What is Code4Lib? It’s an open community of, by, and for people who work with technology to further the mission of libraries.
Another way to describe Code4Lib is -- a self-organized, grassroots-driven library adaptation engine that embraces the (r/)evolutionary “digital mindset” that Aaron Dignan describes in this 99U session -
If, as cofounder of Netscape & longtime internet guru Marc Andriessen puts it, software is eating the world (, it’s the Code4Libbers - who are making the needed evolution of libraries happen by building and tweaking software - or “coding” to build out new efficiencies, create value, and better promote the library’s mission.
Why does Code4Lib matter to me? I’ve often had colleagues show me something amazing on University X, Y, or Z’s web presence, and had them ask me to “make it so”. What they never seem to understand is how deep the teams who made those “websites” have to be from both a man-hours and skillset perspective.
There’s a reason that drop-dead gorgeous and intuitively navigable digital collections look the way they do and - more importantly - function the way they do. There are usually many people building them who have mad skillz -- software creation chops. A team works better than a solo developer because the team adds a breadth that = problem-solving efficiency. If you don’t have your own in-house team to turn to, as was my case for many years, your next best bet is to find other people to talk with who are grappling with similar problems.
So when I discover a community like Code4Lib, in which colleagues with far greater depth than myself are willing to share what they know, I run toward it with open arms… and I hope that one day, I’ll be able to help my colleagues as they’ve helped me.
These colleagues inspire me because they don’t simply complain about the challenges they experience at their workplaces. Nor do they simply whitewash the issues. Instead they identify them and work toward solutions
In the past, I’veI hit the wall with some other library conferences and groups, where I seemed to see the same topics and approaches used year after year (with lots of shiny shown off and not much transparency about the behind-the-scenes work it took to create the shiny (either due to jealously guarded secrets or due to their status as vendor-provided interfaces)... It was just frustrating to feel like I couldn’t build on work that others had done. Worse, these events often seemed to be scratching the superficial aspects of the library, rather delving in deeply to the processes and methods of evolving our organizations forward through the digital medium. They were easier to grasp, well-polished, adn digestible events that were easy to attend, but also easy to leave behind.
on the flip side, Code4Lib - which I attended for the first time last year - challengeand inspired d me to evolve beyond my own comfort zone. It also inspired me to do so. In fact, I can best describe Code4Lib as providing the kind of leadership that our libraries need so desperately right now.
I think that most of us will have to engage with code and collaborative communities in the future if we are to be successful in libraries. As such, I highly recommend that you join me and join in with the Code4Lib organization. Next year’s conference will be held in Portland, OR. I’m hoping to get involved as a volunteer. Maybe you can, too!

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