Report on code4lib 2013

A few weeks ago, I attended the annual code4lib conference in Chicago. Code4lib is more than a conference; it’s a loose collective of software developers, programmers and people who work with technology in libraries, all of whom connect through a listserv, an internet relay chat (IRC) channel, and various forms of social media in addition to the annual meeting. Code4libbers tend to have a strong open-source bias, and are also mostly people who work for secondary education institutions. I always find code4lib conferences to be inspiring and a little overwhelming. There’s a flood of new information, and many old friends to catch up with and new people to meet.

The last few years, many of the individuals attending the conference have become much more interested in archives, and in applying technical solutions developed for library uses to archives. This year I noticed a lot more interest in issues surrounding archival discovery and preservation systems.

The first day was devoted to half or full-day preconference sessions, designed to provide a forum for people with a common interest to work on a specific system or problem, or to learn more about a particular technology. I attended two sessions which were designed to give attendees a basic understanding of the Ruby programming language, and specifically a discovery interface called Blacklight. This is a language that is new to me, and it was good to learn more about other discovery systems which may be potential future alternatives to XTF.

A couple of sessions I found interesting dealt with approaches to displaying information about archival collections online. Presentations by Trevor Thornton (NYPL), Corey Harper (NYU) and Adam Wead (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum) all discussed implementations of discovery systems for their finding aids. The common theme among them was that all of their systems treated finding aids not as documents that could only be seen in a specific order, but as a group of related components and entities (groups of material like series or folders, creators of material, subjects, etc). Breaking up a finding aid into all of those pieces while retaining enough information about where each piece fits in the collection hierarchy is a tricky problem, but it seemed as though there were many commonalities in how each of the presenters approached and solved the problem.

I also learned a lot from sessions on Google Analytics event tracking, HTML5 video and data visualizations with D3. You can see the entire schedule here and watch some video of the presentations here. There are also a lot of good posts on presentations on one attendee’s blog, as well as a good summary on the ACRL TechConnect Blog.

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