Issue 13, 2011-04-11

Conference Reports: Code4Lib 2011

Conference reports from the 6th Code4Lib Conference, held in Bloomington, IN, from February 7 to 10, 2011. The Code4Lib conference is a collective volunteer effort of the Code4Lib community of library technologists. Included are two brief reports on the conference from some recipients of conference scholarships.

by Bohyun Kim and Elias Tzoc

The 6th Code4Lib Conference was held in Bloomington, IN, from February 7 to 10, 2011. As in years past, the Code4Lib community was able to offer scholarships focused on gender diversity and minority representation, this year sponsored by Oregon State University and the Western North Carolina Library Network. Following are conference reports from two of the scholarship recipients.

For more notes, many informal, by other Code4Lib community members, find content on the internet tagged “c4l11″ or “#c4l11″, a label attendees were encouraged to use to aid collocation. For instance, archived twitter messages.

From Bohyun Kim

I attended this year’s Code4Lib conference as a first-time attendee thanks to the Code4Lib Minority Scholarship. The conference was tremendously informative and inspiring. As one of the attendees (Michael J. Giarlo @mjgiarlo) tweeted, it was exciting, exhausting, engaging, energizing, and edifying all at once.

Prepare for Information Overload

All presentations were a short length of twenty minutes, and lightning talks were no longer than 5 minutes. This fast-paced format kept the conference lively and allowed many topics to be presented. However, since each presentation included technical details and made references to many systems and/or software tools, information overload was inevitable. I found the archived video of all talks extremely useful.

Things I Have Learned

Throughout the conference, I found many handy and useful software tools and tricks, such as the AjaxyDialog JQuery UI widget and the Google Chart API. I also learned interesting facts, such as OPAC usage statistics (Bill Dueber) and the user-interaction patterns on a touch-screen kiosk (Andreas Orphanides). But the greatest benefit of the conference for me was learning about new developments in the library programmers’ community and seeing how coding is applied to improve library services and products in various areas.

Things I Did Not Expect

While most presentations and lightning talks were technical in content, unarguably the strong point of the conference, there was also a healthy dose of discussion on library services beyond programming. The keynote address by Diane I. Hillmann and the closing talk by Eric Hellman addressed broader issues in libraries: metadata and RDA (Resource Description and Access) and room for libraries that is shrinking with the growth of the e-book market and the potential for library programmers to introduce and lead changes in the current library landscape.

The Code4Lib conference was also surprisingly open to new attendees. Five-minute lightning talks presented a very low barrier to participation. Many social events organized via the Code4Lib wiki and the hospitality suite allowed new attendees to meet and socialize with peers, and to experience the conference at a more intimate and personal level.

More Offerings for Novice Coders?

Throughout the conference and also at the closing talk, the fact that many library programmers are self-taught and often ‘fractional’ coders in the sense that they can afford to spend only a fraction of their time on coding was widely acknowledged. However, during the conference, the focus on self-directed learning opportunities and resources was not strong, excepting Beth Sadler’s lightning talk, “A Guide for the Perplexed.”

Support for the growth and further development of novice library coders is something most libraries neglect to provide despite its extreme importance. While libraries often recruit programmers from non-library IT sectors, it is just as important to encourage and support novice coders among existing library staff so they can grow into more experienced programmers. Although enthusiastic, many novice coders often don’t realize how certain programming languages or software tools can be applied to current library services and systems and need guidance about which coding skills are most relevant and can be used to produce immediately useful results in the library context.

I think that bringing out this theme of self-directed learning for novice library coders more prominently and strongly in future Code4Lib conferences would make a significant contribution to broadening the relatively small pool of library programmers.

From Elias Tzoc

In 1998 Roy Tennant, in his article The Most Important Management Decision: Hiring Staff for the New Millennium, presented what he called “a laundry list” of qualities any candidate for a digital library position should have [1].  The first of eight qualities he mentioned was the capacity to learn constantly and quickly.  This year it was great to join a group of quick learners and coders (hackers) at the 2011 Code4Lib Conference.  I found two main characteristics of this conference: a) the single-track method allows new participants to avoid the problems of choosing between breakout sessions; and b) many participants were not only taking notes or twitting about the sessions, but also coding.  Perhaps the lesson here is that while some can talk about something new to implement, others (Code4Libbers) are actually implementing it.  I was also surprised to learn that many were presenting something that they started to think about at the previous conference; in short, Code4Lib seems to be a great place for brainstorming and initiating new projects that can produce deliverables for real-life projects in a matter of months.

My own example of coding at the conference came on the second day, right after the presentation “A Community-Based Approach to Developing a Digital Exhibit at Notre Dame Using the Hydra Framework” where Rick Johnson and Dan Brubaker Horst (University of Notre Dame) presented their work using a combination of Fedora, Solr, and the Hydra framework.  Although we don’t use Fedora, this presentation reminded me of a work in progress we had for a web-interface project for a DSpace image theme (using XMLUI); so I decided to open my VPN client and log into an OhioLINK machine. I then opened a vim editor and began working.  After about 20 minutes of editing, saving, and restarting Tomcat, a new gallery theme was correctly in place and working the way it should.  Speaking of DSpace, on the third day, it was great to hear about the “Mendeley’s API and University Libraries: Three Examples to Create Value” by Ian Mulvaney from Mendeley.  Among other things, he talked about a plug-in based on SWORD that will work with major repository systems -including DSpace- that can potentially help both authors and IR administrators.  The plug-in will be available at the end of this summer.

As for the lightning talks, I think it is an excellent method for newcomers to learn about a variety of topics in a short period of time. Some of my favorites included the AjaxyDialog jQuery-ui widget, Blacklight and Hydra at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Open Data and the Biodiversity Heritage Library experience, Mobile Web Apps for Library Exhibits, Digital Humanities and Libraries, and A Guide for the Perplexed. The last one is a great example of the ongoing work of the Code4Lib community in providing information about areas of technology being used in libraries, background knowledge required to work effectively in those areas, and tips on how to acquire necessary skills.

Last but not least, the Ask Anything session was an interesting combination of basic, advanced, on-site, and online questions as well as short and long answers. For me, the question of the day was “What should we teach new librarians about coding/programming/hacking.”  The answers included the following: learn and try something simple, install LINUX, use the command line, be a good learner … and after this year, I would add one more to the list: join Code4Lib -which could be as simple as joining the listserv, attending a conference, checking the Code4lib Journal or maybe just making time to watch the archived videos of the 2011 Conference.

Just for the sake of diversity, it was also absolutely great to see and talk to people from many parts of the world including Japan, UK, France, etc.  Thanks Code4Lib organizers!


Roy Tennant, “The most important management decision: Hiring staff for the new millennium”, Library Journal, 123(1998):102 . http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA156490.html

About the authors

Bohyun Kim is the Digital Access Librarian at Florida International University Medical Library in Miami, FL. She can be contacted at kimb@fiu.edu and blogs at Library Hat (http://www.bohyunkim.net/blog/).

Elias Tzoc, originally from Guatemala, joined Miami University Libraries after completing his MSIS degree with a focus on digital libraries from the University of Texas at Austin in May 2007. As Digital Initiatives Librarian, he assists the Department Head in providing access and management to the University Libraries’ Digital Collections and the Scholarly Commons project. http://staff.lib.muohio.edu/~tzocea/

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