Zahra Ashktorab March 28, 2014
I was recently selected by the Code4Lib community to receive a diversity scholarship to attend the Code4Lib conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Code4Lib conference was the perfect place to make new connections with people who aim to make information more accessible through technology. As someone who is in close proximity in technology and usability, I was interested in the new strides taking place in this area. At this conference, I made new contacts for future collaboration and attend talks ranging from Linked Open Data and Google Analytics.
I was very moved by Sumana Harihareswara’s engaging key note speech. Sumana works for the Wikimedia foundation as a technology executive and open source management consultant who leads software development. In her talk, she stressed the importance of usability of the tools and technologies we create for people, even referring to usability as a universal human right. She said that usability is something we need to think of from the beginning when we create a software or a system, not an afterthought. In her words, “We can build arteries better than we can build capillaries.” However, capillaries are where the interesting things actually happen. She referenced the low amount of eBooks borrowed from the New York public library as a usability problem. Currently, there are over a dozen steps a user must hurdle through in order to borrow a eBook from the New York Public library. For this reason, only 19,000 eBooks are borrowed a year in comparison with the 250,000 books that are borrowed. This ratio is not representative of how users are purchasing eBooks. Industries are making it easier for users to purchase eBooks, so public libraries must make their sites more usable in an effort to do the same.
I didn’t travel far to come to the conference, (DC -> Raleigh), however I was so pleased to meet people who had traveled very long distances to be there. One of the presenters was even from Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt. Ingy Morsy presented about annotating PDF books from the Bibliotecha Alexandrina. It was nice to see that the code4lib movement was not only national, but libraries around the world were attempting to make information more accessible through technology.
I learned about the available tools I can use in my work and research by attending this conference. I often use d3 for my information visualization work, but Bohyun Kim’s presentation showed me a simpler alternative, Google visualization, which would be a lot simpler to use in prototyping visualization work. While d3 is more interactive, Google Visualization is a very useful tool when prototyping simple visualizations.
I also really enjoyed the tour of the Hunt Library at North Carolina State University, one of the most incredible libraries I have ever been to. I found myself wishing University of Maryland had a library like that of NC State while I was a undergraduate student. The Hunt library really embodied the premise that the library is a place where people get together and seek information. There was a makerspace room, multimedia rooms with incredible screens, a gaming room, and so vast amounts of colorful open space for students to sit. I was able to see the “Listen to Wikipedia” screen which created different types of music when people edited Wikipedia. People were also able to take pictures of themselves on Instagram tagged “#huntlibrary” and it would appear on the large screen. I later learned that there was a vetting process for these pictures which demonstrates that incorporating social media and technology into your institution comes with its own set of challenges – like vetting bathroom selfies in the library.
I think that all libraries should incorporate the most recent technologies to engage patrons and make information more accessible. Attending the Code4Lib conference made me realize the importance of incorporating technologies in library spaces and the importance of usability of these technologies. Overall, the organizing committee was extremely friendly and welcoming. There was a lunch the first day for the scholarship recipients. I think it was a splendid idea to have lunch for the scholarship recipients, because it was nice to get to know about them and their backgrounds and to exchange contact information.