By Amy Unger
Making Connections in Seattle
Code4lib 2012 touched on an incredible number of topics in a short period of time. There were 22 presentations, 33 lightning talks, and a couple rounds of Ask Anything, where attendees ask a question to the audience and are connected with people who may have an answer, during the course of two and a half days. I felt lucky to be exposed to all the work that members of the Code4Lib community have been doing over the past years, and I think the quantity of technologies I learned about expanded my knowledge of the possible applications libraries and archives can develop for their data and resources.
The variety of skills and technologies employed by Code4Lib members was impressive. Each successive presentation brought up a new way to create or link together library technologies. Meeting so many people involved in different technologies provided a great way to get a better sense of what the entire library programming landscape looks like.
The presenters did an impressive job introducing topics in a way that allowed attendees with all technical backgrounds to grasp the problem at hand. Although there were many talks outside my area of expertise, I never felt as though I lacked the technical grounding to understand the presentation. In this respect, and others, the conference certainly succeeded in being open and encouraging to newcomers. Of course, given the uniqueness of every library’s technologies, I found that accessing the online resources greatly enhanced my understanding of each talk. The IRC backchannel often provided an interesting take on the presentation, and for many talks, a few clicks could pull up the project’s documentation and code.
Further, I was impressed with the commitment to quality service and improved access for patrons. I develop primarily staff applications, which lately has involved a fair amount of data manipulation, so I do not currently spend much time focused on supporting usability and design for diverse groups. It was a lot of fun to see all the ways programmers are making our libraries and websites great resources for patrons of all ages and backgrounds.
As one of my applications provides an interface for searching a Solr index, I found the presentations on Solr particularly useful. I was especially interested in solutions to some of the retrieval issues that occur as libraries increase the types of objects that can be found in indexes. For example, how do you boost a journal result that has a match on the title field more than a book result with a match on its title field? As someone who has been on the sidelines of discussions on how to structure an index and its fields, I found it fascinating to see when people chose to create separate indexes, when they chose to create alternate fields, and when we might still be waiting for better tools for tackling a particular challenge.
Code4Lib was my first professional conference, and, combined with all the after-hours activities, it was certainly a bit of a whirlwind. Seattle was a great place to unwind on a Thursday afternoon, and I am happy to say from experience that the top floor of the Seattle Public Library on a rainy afternoon is a wonderful place for putting in a few hours of uninterrupted programming. I want to thank the Seattle organizing team and all the Code4Lib 2012 volunteers for an exciting and well-organized conference. I am immensely grateful to Oregon State University and the Digital Library Federation for the opportunity to meet members of the Code4Lib community and to participate in this year’s conference.