In the weeks following the Code4Lib Conference (held this year in Ann Arbor, Michigan) I have been reflecting on some themes from the conference which have relevance for our work here at the RAC. I’ve also been thinking about what it means to be part of a professional community over the long haul, and how my own relationship with Code4lib has evolved over the years.

Conference Themes

Every conference I’ve gone to in the past couple of years has included a number of sessions on artificial intelligence (AI). Code4Lib 2024 was no different, but what struck me about these presentations on AI were the very pragmatic approaches people were taking to using that technology. This is markedly different from many of the other conferences I’ve attended, where AI is spoken about either as the cure for everything that ails us or, alternatively, the source of all that ails us. Given that Code4Lib is basically a practitioner conference with a strong interest in history of technology this is not all that surprising; folks are inclined to dabble, and also have enough awareness of technological continuity that they’re not going to be overawed by any particular technology.

The other (surprising) theme for me was PDFs! I’ve been thinking a lot about our use of PDFs for digitized content, so maybe this was just confirmation bias, but there were a surprising number of presentations that dealt with generating OCR, accessibility, and other aspects of PDF creation and manipulation. Although in some cases the institutional context and specific use cases were quite different from ours here at the RAC, I still learned a lot from these presentations that I’ll take forward with me as we continue to refine our digitization processes.

Participating in Professional Communities

At my first Code4Lib 13 years ago in Bloomington, Indiana, I remember feeling both very cold (it was February) and totally overwhelmed. As a very young professional, it seemed like every presentation covered something I’d never heard of before, and most of the in-between conversations went way over my head. By the end of the conference, I had many pages of notes and links to follow up on. Everything seemed important and probably (if I could only figure out how) relevant.

For better or worse, Code4Lib doesn’t feel like that to me anymore. I’ve got a lot more years of experience under my belt and I think have a better sense of what I know and what I don’t know. There are certainly areas where we have a lot to learn from Code4Lib community, but there are also areas where we have something to contribute. And that recognition, I think, is what being part of a professional community over the long haul means: you don’t just take, you also give.

Sometimes that giving is you presenting about something you know, like the D-Team did in 2017 when we talked about maintaining a team to solve hard (and technology-flavored) problems. But other times it’s less glamorous, like volunteering to support conference planning or operations. I’d argue those less-visible forms of contribution are also the most important because they have a longer and more enduring impact for many people.

What this means, I think, is that over time one’s contributions to a community are less about specific and unique expertise and more about being in relation; making space for and connecting with other people who can support, challenge, inspire and correct. I’m grateful that Code4Lib has been and continues to be one of those places for me.