Issue 36, 2017-04-20

Editorial: Reflecting on the success and risks to the Code4Lib Journal

At the Code4Lib 2017 conference, I gave a short lightning talk about the Code4Lib Journal and in the process realized that we will soon be closing out the 10th year of "foster[ing] community and share[ing] information among those interested in the intersection of libraries, technology, and the future." That quote comes from the Code4Lib Journal mission page. The word cloud at the top of this article contains the words of the 333 articles that have been published in issues 1 through 35 (except for one non-stopword — can you guess the word that would have dwarfed all other words in the image?). Since November 1, 2007, the Journal's website has seen nearly 1.5 million page views from locations primarily in North America with the long tail of access spanning the world.

Over the past 10 years, 39 people have donated their time and energy to solicit and edit articles, coordinate the publication of issues, and run the technical infrastructure of the Journal. The Code4Lib Journal is a unique collaboration of authors and editors working within a modestly open process to publish articles that further the Journal's mission. The editors work openly with authors to offer different perspectives, to widen the applicability of topics, and to polish the text and tone of articles. If you see one of these editors, thank them for furthering the Journal's mission.

I'm on that list, having served on the editorial board for about half of the Journal's existence, and I too care about providing this forum for new and established authors to foster community and share information. In that light, I outlined three areas of concern for the Journal during the Code4Lib 2017 talk.

Hosting and Technical Support: In keeping with the all-volunteer theme of the editors, the hosting provider space and the technical support for the Journal site are also provided without compensation. The Journal uses a WordPress site hosted on iBiblio's infrastructure. The system administrator, software installer, and custom plugin developer have all been volunteers on the editorial committee. This is a sustainable situation only in as far as these volunteer resources remain available. This state of affairs is but a small microcosm of what is happening in the Code4Lib community, where the main website, the website, the Slack administrator, the IRC helpers, the mailing list hosting/support, and the conference activities are all done by volunteers. There was a breakout session during the Code4Lib 2017 conference where these general needs were discussed. What we have now is working, but it is not without the inherent risk of volunteers losing interest or leaving the community causing the structure to collapse or the catastrophic failure of an organization's infrastructure of which the Journal is seen as minor collateral damage. That is related to the second concern, archiving and preservation.

Archiving and Preservation: There is good and useful content in the Journal — 1.5 million page views across 10 years is not an accident. Yet the journal lacks a thoughtful preservation strategy for that content. In the early days of the journal, I remember someone saying that their library printed, bound and shelved the journal. Even if that were more than a misremembered email message, would that library still be doing it now? Even if that library were doing it now, how does that effectively capture the code snippets and other ephemera associated with articles? I've had some preliminary conversations with a representative from Portico, and that could be a solution. At the lowest level of membership fees based on annual revenue (which is zero, of course, for the Journal), preservation in Portico would cost $250/year — and it isn't clear yet whether such preservation would capture more than what a PDF print of the article could hold. And the financial commitment is related to the third concern, zero cash flow.

Zero Cash Flow: Technology infrastructure and editor time donated. Authors neither pay for nor are paid for publishing articles. There are no advertisements on the website. The only revenue is a few dollars that the Journal could receive from EBSCO for being included in their searchable indexes, but the Journal has no mechanism to receive that revenue (nor would it come close to balancing out the technology infrastructure and/or preservation costs). In some respects I get that this is a point of pride: no money changes hands in the publication of this Journal. Still, this lack of cash flow mechanisms is a risk that exacerbates the first two concerns mentioned above. Kudos to the Code4Lib Fiscal Continuity special interest group for their report earlier this year, but there doesn't seem to be a willingness in the community to address this concern/risk.

Although I've used twice as many words to describe concerns for the Journal than I did to describe its strengths, that is not an indication that the Journal is in trouble. It isn't. The Journal is an institution that is valuable and is valued, and the concerns are described out of a desire to address risks that might bring the Journal to an end. And with that strength and love for the Journal in mind, I am pleased and honored to present the 36th issue of the Code4Lib Journal.

Issue 36 Summary

Article proposals come to the Journal at random, so it is interesting that this issue has a number of articles on institutional repositories and related systems. In Autoload: a pipeline for expanding the holdings of an Institutional Repository enabled by ResourceSync shepherded by editor Péter Király, the authors describe a system for finding archival copies of publications by authors at Los Alamos National Laboratory and ingesting them into their institutional repository. Editor Junior Tidal assisted with An Interactive Map for Showcasing Repository Impacts, an article that ties together Google Analytics and Google Maps through a Ruby-on-Rails application to demonstrate where institutional repository resources are being used. In Medici 2: A Scalable Content Management System for Cultural Heritage Datasets the authors describe a series of tools in used to store, retrieve, and provide depth (in some cases literally!) to digital surrogates of archeology objects; it was edited by Carol Bean. In Outside The Box: Building a Digital Asset Management Ecosystem for Preservation and Access, Journal editor Meghan Finch worked with authors at the University of Houston to describe the combination of Hydra-in-a-Box, Archivematica, and ArchivesSpace that they use to provide access and preservation support for their collections.

There are also two articles related to publishing reusable metadata on the web. In Recommendations for the application of to aggregated Cultural Heritage metadata to increase relevance and visibility to search engines: the case of Europeana the authors describe experiments and make recommendations for transforming their rich and varied metadata into a form more easily understood by web crawlers using tags; it was edited by Ruth Tillman (who is also the Journal's technical support!). And lastly, Andrew Darby shepherded Linked Data is People: Building a Knowledge Graph to Reshape the Library Staff Directory through the editing process; it is a fascinating look at how one can turn the simple staff directory into a search-engine-friendly source of data about the expertise in the library.

Thank you to the editors and the authors for your contributions to the Code4Lib Journal issue 36.

Call for Editors

If you are reading this in April 2017 and you are interested in helping the journal to continue, please see the Call for Editors. We’ve extended the due date and are announcing the call to a broader community of readers.

Peter E. Murray
Coordinating Editor, Code4Lib Journal Issue #36

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