Thursday, March 18, 2010

Code4Lib 2010

I attended the Code4Lib conference from Feb 22 to Feb 25 2010. The Code4Lib conference is a grassroots-organized one-track conference of people who get their hands dirty with library technology, in innovative ways. Another review of Code4Lib 2010 by a first-time attending DLF participant can be found here. This was the third Code4Lib conference I have attended, and it continues to be the most useful conference I have found for helping my work at the libraries.

As with any conference, some of the most useful time comes in informal discussions with other attendees in hallways, over meals, and late at night in the conference hotel -- there was barely a single moment I wasn't either sleeping or talking about ideas for library technology with someone. This year, most of the other core Blacklight contributors attended the conference, and I spent a lot of time discussing Blacklight plans with them. Meeting in person can help build shared understanding and social bonds useful for a distributed cross-country collaboration in ways online communication does not.

Blacklight was also well represented on the formal conference schedule, with Stanford staff especially making several presentations about what they've done with their Blacklight implementation, giving me ideas, and helping me understand the possibilities.

Another interesting theme in this year's conference was tools for managing metadata. I am pleased to see innovative technology and approaches being applied to metadata control, as well-controlled metadata is really at the heart of many library digital services, and our tools for supporting such have in some cases not been as sophisticated as they could be. Metadata-related presentations included Jennifer Bowen from the XC project talking about their metadata toolkit component for aggregating and normalizing metadata from diverse sources; University of Washington Libraries staff talking about techniques for 'matching dirty data'; and a presentation on HIVE, a tool for exploring multiple controlled vocabularies in an integrated and efficient way.

A presentation that happened to be the final presentation on the conference schedule hit a trendy topic: Mobile Web App Design: Getting Started. Presenter Michael Doran made a very convincing argument that it doesn't make sense to spend time developing applications for specific mobile platforms (all of which require custom work per-platform), but instead makes more sense to develop standard HTML/CSS/Javascript pages that can be viewed on desktop or mobile computers, but taking special care to optimize display for the general mobile environment (not for a particular platform). Doran provided an overview of some techniques and tools helpful to succeeding with this path.

One of the interesting things about the structure of the Code4Lib conference is that it's a one-track conference, where all attendees see the same presentations, and all presentations are only 20 minutes long. There is also time for spontaneously signed-up-for 5-minute lightning talks, and spontaneously chosen break-out group discussions. The goal is to maximize participation and maximize the amount of useful ideas, and connections with other developers, you can get. For me, it was a very succesful conference, I left with many ideas for future projects, and many new professional contacts who I know are experts on certain topics I may want to follow up on later, and who may even be future collaborators.

Video of all of the conference presentations will eventually be available for free online; if some of the presentations sound interesting, check back at the schedule page, when the video is ready it will be linked there. With all-volunteer labor doing the video editing, encoding, and uploading, it could be a little while though.

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