Issue 49, 2020-08-10

Editorial: For Pandemic Times Such as This

A pandemic changes the world and changes libraries.

by Peter Murray

This issue is late to publish, and the Code4Lib Journal editors have decided to skip a quarterly production cycle. For future reference, the world was hit by a new (“novel”) virus in late 2019 that in a very short period of time has upended the lives of many on the planet: schools and business abruptly closed, travel restrictions and the phrase “social distancing” entering the lexicon, and scientific and political uncertainty. In case that wasn’t enough, we added: social uprising, clearer demonstrations of the impacts of climate change, and for about 36 hours in North America—“Murder Hornets.” [1] As a note to our future selves: we were distracted.

For me personally, two points early in the 2020 timeline will be memorable. The first is January 23 at the WOLFcon reception at Texas A&M University. Dr. David Carlson, dean of the TAMU libraries, interrupted the reception to say that there was a possible case on campus of a student with this new virus. Further test results turned out negative, but this thing had quite unexpectedly gotten real.

The second point was eight weeks later at the Code4Lib Conference in Pittsburgh. The conference space started new cleaning protocols and we were encouraged to wash our hands more often. Several institutions put travel restrictions on their employees, and the number of remote presenters and viewers jumped dramatically. At the end of the week, there was also more news about the spread of the virus and meetings that were being canceled. I remember remarking to someone, “This might be the last library technology gathering for a while.”

The world has evolved since the Journal issued its call for proposals for this issue in late March. It will continue to evolve in ways that we cannot predict when we expect to publish the next issue in February 2021 (our 50th!). How will we use technology to facilitate safe and productive interactions with an airborne virus? As technology becomes a more important facilitator of communication, how do we ensure broad accessibility across dimensions like bandwidth and technical literacy?

The last task that delayed the publication of this issue was writing this editorial, and for that I apologize. So many words have already been written and spoken about this time without precedent, and I am overwhelmed by change and uncertainty. I can’t predict what will happen next, but I can offer some general advice.

  1. Take care of yourself and each other. The good days and bad days probably feel more extreme now, and probably tend towards the bad more than the good. We are social creatures, and as a society we will get through this.
  2. Have awareness in what you do and tolerance of what you accept of others. [2] There is little slack in society right now; many people and systems were already stretched to the breaking point before the pandemic started. If you can add slack back into the system, do so.
  3. Remember the Past, Improve the Present. Time moves in one direction. We can’t go backward to pre-pandemic times, but we can learn from the past to make our present and future better. What are the tools, techniques, and technologies can we build upon to make our libraries better equipped to serve our patron’s needs.

Postscript: in the spirit of experimentation that is the hallmark of the Code4Lib community, this editorial uses Robustify your links from the International Internet Preservation Consortium to point to snapshots of HREFs in the article. Link attributes were constructed manually using the Robustify website. The JavaScript and CSS additions are not on this page the CSS formatting wasn’t quite right, but the experiment continues. Adding something like Robustify seems like a great addition to any journal publication toolchain.

Summary of Issue 49

Nicholas Weber, Sebastian Karcher, and James Myers offer their insights into a toolchain for human-assisted curation of datasets. With a combination of open source software and open APIs, they describe a system for ingesting, description, and discovery at the Qualitative Data Repository (QDR). Péter Király on the Code4Lib Editorial Board shepherded this article through the publication process.

In the first of two articles in this issue using geographic information tools, Charlie Harper and R. Benjamin Gorham describe a process extracting place names from articles and placing them on an interactive map. This article describes a combination of named entity recognition using Python and geolocating with ArcGIS Online. This article was edited by Edward Corrado on the Code4Lib Editorial Board.

The second GIS article is from Greg Sohanchyk and Dan Briem. They extracted and geolocated data from their integrated library system to combine with census data to understand library card usage in their city. Mark Swenson helped the authors with this article.

Nicole Wood and Scott Shumate tackle the challenge of keeping their library’s holdings updated in OCLC—a task made even more important by the need to improve the efficiency of interlibrary loan requests. They describe an innovative use of MarcEdit, Excel, and Python to make this happen. The Editorial Board’s Mark Swenson also worked on this article.

One of Code4Lib Journal’s most prolific authors, Jim Hahn, analyzed Alma and Share-VDE for their ability to create linked data clusters from MARC data and enrich that data into a BIBFRAME network. Péter Király worked on this article.

Devin Becker, Evan Williamson, and Olivia Wikle write about how they combine ContentDM with a static site generator. The University of Idaho Library likes the features found in ContentDM, they were not satisfied with options for displaying collections to their users. They used data extracted from ContentDM and Jekyll to create a “skin” over their digital collections. This is one of two articles that Brighid Gonzales worked on for this issue.

Katharine Frazier improved the efficiency of monthly collection reports using data from GOBI. From a list of items with a high number of holds, this process automates the task of gathering holdings, pricing, and format data for collection managers. Brighid Gonzales also worked on this article.

Ralf Weber describes a process for regularly testing the access methods and availability of open access and commercial material. Using CodeceptJS, this process mimics the users’ actions in a web browser to test if access is available as expected. Sara Amato helped get this article into shape for publication in the Journal.


[1] For a video recap, see Explaining the Pandemic to my Past Self and Explaining the Pandemic to my Past Self Part 2. A third part is no doubt in the works.

[2] Postel’s law for pandemic times, one might say.

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ISSN 1940-5758