Issue 38, 2017-10-18

Editorial: The Economics of Not Being an Organization

Our successes have caught up with us. Now we get to choose the next step in our evolution.

By Carol Bean

The Code4Lib community is at a crossroads. We’re not an organized library organization. We don’t even know how many members there are, because membership is by self-identification. But the loose ties that bind us together are straining under under the dichotomy of acting like an organization without being one.

We’re pretty young as Library groups go, but we’ve done a lot since arriving on the scene. 14 years ago, Code4Lib started as a listserv. Within 5 years we had annual conferences, a Journal with (more or less) quarterly issues, and had set up and migrated a web site. That first 5 years didn’t require a lot from too many people. The Code4Lib list has done pretty well, with fairly minimal effort required for maintenance. The web site and wiki haven’t required much ongoing effort. The Journal did have a rather steep learning curve the first few issues as we hammered out workflows and policies, but works well now with minimal tweaking. All of these components, of course, have drawn directly on the skills of Code4Lib members. We know technology. We try out new stuff without thinking twice, share those ideas and tweak them till they work for us. The evolution of the Code4Lib conference, however, has brought us face to face with an important reality which required much more than the technology space we’re so comfortable in. Its success has thrown us into the real world of obligations, commitments, and money.

In actuality, all the components of Code4Lib are essentially standalone units: the email list, Slack and IRC channels, the Journal, regional groups, the conferences. The thing is, any of those components could cease, and the group collectively known as Code4Lib would continue to exist. And this is a good thing! The question is, how much do we want those components to continue, and what will the economic cost be? Because everything has an economic cost, and things continue to exist when we, as a collective, decide the benefits outweigh the costs.

For the email list, the benefits are huge and the cost is minimal. Likewise for the IRC and Slack channels. The economic cost of the Journal is much higher, involving quite a bit of work up front for new editors and fairly significant time commitment for existing editors. But so far we deem the benefits worth the cost. The economic cost of the annual conference, however, has ballooned from moderate to staggering. Yet the conferences have continued, because the benefits of the conference, until now, have been worth the cost.

Last year a Fiscal Continuity Interest Group formed, as usual with members of the group self-selecting from the larger Code4Lib community, to take a deeper look at the economics of running an annual conference when there is no formal organization to support it (see their report and recommendations: Three options emerged, which the Code4Lib community is now being asked to vote on [1]:

  1. Do nothing/Maintain status quo: Local Conference Planning Committees bear burden of finding and recruiting a local “fiscal host” for conference each year
  2. Secure an ongoing fiscal sponsorship for C4L: pursue one of the offers from possible fiscal sponsors outlined in the FCIG Report
  3. Incorporate C4L as a nonprofit entity

Option 1 is unfeasible, even irresponsible, and could result in the end of Code4Lib annual conferences. Option 2 and option 3 are not mutually exclusive. I would point out, however, at this point the amount of work required to implement option 3 far exceeds that for option 2. And we need to do something now if we want the annual conferences to continue. Given the time factor, the only path that makes sense is to secure an ongoing sponsor with the resources we as a group lack. We need their expertise and experience now, whether or not the third option is pursued in the long run. And I encourage those interested in that path to take the time and make the effort to pursue option 3, after we have secured a sponsor. Let us continue to evolve!

Meanwhile, if you consider yourself part of the Code4Lib community, or if you even aspire to be part, take a few minutes (or more) to read about the options, and vote: We’re that type of community.


[1] Taken from the SurveyMonkey ballot:

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