Code4Lib 2013: Reflection & Thoughts

After almost a week since Code4Lib 2013, I’m still not sure it’s all sunk in. Every year I look at the conference program, I wonder if the sessions will actually interest me, but I go anyway and get blown away. Regardless, I was more excited this year since I was the program committee lead this year, helped with sponsorship, prepared a lightning talk and decided to be the opening MC.

Pre-Conference Day

The morning was a Rails workshop run by @ronallo with many helpers. We followed the Railsbridge Curriculum minus the git/Heroku section. What I liked most was how it fit the audience at code4lib, that is, it didn’t spend a half hour’s worth explaining variables or functions. We just got into the nitty, gritty, and things were explained as needed. I get rather bored at some pre-conference workshops when they assume the audience knows absolutely nothing (at a tech conference? I think not). Most importantly, I now have a basic understanding of the Model, View, Controller model.

crew of c4l13 people at Bánh Mì Lotus Cafe
Had an Awesome Bánh Mì Lunch at Nearby Lotus Cafe via @anarchivist

The afternoon was the Fail4Lib session lead by @cazzerson and Andreas, both from NCSU. We had a great time talking about failure of projects: how/why it happens, how to mitigate, how to recover, etc. We also had a couple of lightning talks where people gave examples of failed projects. Conferences and other presentations are almost always about successful projects or projects in development, but just about never about failed projects. I understand we don’t want to flaunt our failures, but I think we can learn a lot from failures. Interestingly, my takeaway for the day was that it’s almost always an issue of communication.

We actually ended up seeing a lot of the same themes and issues from the session in the rest of the conference. Needless to say, I think everyone in our group was really happy with the session, not least of all because there were pie and cookies!

blueberry pie
Brought to you by @ranti

The Talks

I wasn’t sure whether I would really enjoy the presentations since a lot of them had little to do with what I’ve worked on or have a current interest in working on, but I was blown away by a lot of the sessions.

There were bits and pieces that got too technical, especially the SerialSolutions one where it got into math that I don’t think I would’ve understood even when I was majoring in it. Some were great in a practical way, which means I will be looking into adding event tracking into our website now. Others had great humour, such as Jason’s HTML5 video talk with pew pew lasers.

There were so many great talks, I won’t reflect on all of them and why I liked them (or not). I wrote a lot of notes, and there’s the video archives, which can summarize for me. In general, I was happy though that there were some front end/UX/UI talks. Richard Wolf’s talk was particularly well presented, and Jeremy’s De-sucking the Library User Experience rang particularly true for me.

A lot of the presentations stood out for me not because of the topic or technology, but the passion and commitment some of the presenters had. Corey’s “how I learned to shut up… and build something!” has stuck in my mind. Mark (in his lightning talk) wasn’t the only one to talk about the story or narrative of the content we help to give access to and preserve. The code4lib Japan team continued their story about saveMLAK, the initiative to save museums, libraries, archives, and komikans (community centres) in Japan affected by the 3/11 tsunami.

saveMLAK sticker and button

I also bought postcards, which are now decorating the wall next to my home computer.

saveMLAK postcards on wall

Leslie’s opening keynote and Bess’ talk, the last at the conference, complemented each other and focused on the community. I appreciate these presentations because while going to a conference to learn about new and cool things is what we plan on doing, Leslie and Bess gave talks that address the community. I’m reminded of Dan’s opening keynote from last year. I think it’s important to have the presentations that push us to think and talk about how to keep our community going and moving forward. I believe that we’re being pushed in the right direction.

Bess Sadler

Social Time

One great way to get first timers comfortable is to take them out in a small group and involve good food. Whether a newcomer or not, I really appreciate the newcomer dinner for dividing us up into small enough groups to get to know a few people better. Interestingly enough, this year I sat with a scholarship winner (one of the camera shy ladies) as I was one last year.

newcomer dinner group

Even the last minute organized ones are great. And while some group meals are ‘themed’, I still felt welcomed, in this case, to the cataloguers’ lunch. “We are all imposters” after all. Still, I’m grateful for the welcome atmosphere that I’ve been met with in code4lib (as well as other similar communities), and I hope code4lib never loses that.

Planning Thoughts

Even though I understand that code4lib is an informal group, I definitely think it could use better organization for the conference. There are talks about it right now going on in the con google group, which I’m happy to see. I also tried to contribute more to the documentation, so hopefully things will get easier in the next year or two. I was actually nominated to be part of the discussions, but for various reasons, I un-nominated myself.

I’m also glad to see that as a result of various discussions, next year, the program committee will have some leeway to diversify the program. I believe the comments from the feedback survey supports that with a lot of comments similar to ‘too much Hydra/Solr/digital repositories/same topic’.

Maybe Less is More

me doing opening announcements
Opening Announcements

Honestly, I was exhausted by the end of the conference. While I like to contribute, next year (if I go), I think I’ll stick to just blogging. The first morning when I was MC’ing, taking care of last minute program details, on twitter, and trying to blog all at the same time was just a bit too much. In addition of course, I did a lightning talk and ended up being an IRC helper. I took a lot more notes this year too, on a lot more sessions, and even that was really hard on my brain the rest of the conference (I think I’m still recovering). If I go, maybe I can rope someone else into helping as well.

Me doing my lightning talk
Lightning Talk


I would definitely recommend anyone interested in library technology to attend. While a lot of more technical talks might go over your head (like it does over mine), in my experience, I still learn a lot and by being exposed to various topics, I have an idea of what’s going on elsewhere, in the community. Should something similar come up where I work, I can say ‘oh I remember someone talking about that, let me look them up’.

Mostly, the people and the community are great. I always have a great time. The fact that it’s affordable  is a great bonus.

Some Links

Have One Last Animal Picture

black cat
Time to Lay Low

Author: Cynthia

Technologist, Librarian, Metadata and Technical Services expert, Educator, Mentor, Web Developer, UXer, Accessibility Advocate, Documentarian

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