Thoughts on my first Code4Lib conference


I was fortunate to be able to attend my first Code4Lib conference a few weeks ago because it was a.) inexpensive to attend; and b.) local (hosted at UIC). I've followed the doings of the Code4Lib group for many years with interest but never had occasion to participate. Some of the people I admire the most in the world of libraries are actively involved in this group so I was really looking forward to the experience.

There were many firsts:
  • First time seeing and/or meeting several colleagues whom I've only ever known online
  • First library conference of any kind I've been to in almost five years
  • First time at any Code4Lib conference
  • First time w/hyperconnectivity and live tweeting
  • First time I'd been on the UIC campus since NASIG was held there, way back in 1992
Here are some of my general impressions:
  • Online is wonderful but in person is more so
  • It's ok to be informal, less structured
  • Openness, humility, honesty, vulnerability are *strengths*
  • Most presentations (PowerPoints as well as overall approach) were awesome in their own unique ways
  • Passion about what you do and willingness to share ALWAYS trump polished, political, highly scripted
While I enjoyed the content, of course, I guess I was paying closer attention to the overall experience, the organization of the conference, the people, and the interactions among attendees. For example, it added to the whole experience that my current manager attended with me and we sat next to each other throughout the conference. This enabled us to share notes, to digest and discuss things that were of interest to our institution or to us personally, and more.

The whole event was rather informal and I liked it that way, down to the bare tables in the main room where we all sat in rows and where 90% of the presentations were given, to the fact that everything in terms of scheduling was handled via a wiki (see Code4Lib wiki). The hyperconnectivity referred to already meant that there was free wireless for everyone and it was rock solid with no glitches throughout the whole event. Tables were arranged such that there were plenty of places in which to plug in laptops or other devices and just about everyone took advantage of that convenience. Most of the attendees were glued to their devices and monitoring the IRC and/or Twitter (#c4l13) backchannels. Or maybe they were just taking extensive notes; I don't know. It was both interesting and weird, and I imagine that was true particularly for presenters, who would look out on a sea of attendees, very few of whom were actually looking back.

One of the highlights of the event was lightning talks. People would sign up in advance via the aforementioned wiki to give very brief presentations on topics of interest. These were wildly divergent in their approaches and topics. As an example, one of these lightning talks featured Karen Coyle reading poetry.

There was a rather somber element to the proceedings due to the recent tragic death of Aaron Swartz, whom many in Code4Lib knew personally. Tributes and mentions of him were scattered throughout the three days I attended. He was a featured speaker at Code4Lib in 2008, talking about his work at the time with the Open Library project.

My final thoughts on the experience relate to how this loose organization of passionate library technology people can or might tie together with other like-minded library groups. I hope it will because I see a great opportunity for fruitful collaboration with the likes of Electronic Resources & Libraries (this was even suggested via Twitter by Rachel Frick of the DLF) as well as my preferred library organization, NASIG. One of the big problems I see within the library profession today is a splintering of attention and competition for resources among several different conferences or organizations that focus on many of the same things. While I think I have a fairly good grasp of why this splintering occurs, I believe it is wasteful and dilutes our ability to speak collectively on important issues relating to libraries, especially in the realm of e-resources.




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