A Newbie, Troublesome Cataloger at Code4Lib

Christina Harlow

In March 2014, I attended my first (and definitely not only) Code4Lib National Conference. I had been following the Code4Lib group via their website, journal, wiki and local NYC chapter for some time; but being a metadata/cataloging person, I was hesitant to jump into a meeting of programmers, coders, systems librarians, and others. I am immensely glad that I did not let this hesitation hold me back this year, as the 2014 Code4Lib Conference was the best and most inviting conference that I have ever attended.

I planned to be in Raleigh, North Carolina, for the entirety of the conference – from Monday’s pre-conference workshops through to the closing remarks that Thursday afternoon. It was difficult to choose just two pre-conference workshops to attend, and I am still reading through the notes/tweets created by the different workshop participants. Looking through these notes, it appears that the Technology, Librarianship, and Gender pre-conference group had a great meeting that underscored the relevancy of both the opening and closing keynote speakers; also, the OpenRefine workshop helped a lot of the participants and interested me, as I work with a Linked Open Data version of OpenRefine (LODRefine) almost on a daily basis at my job. However, I decided to attend the Blacklight and the GeoHydra workshops. In what would become a recurring theme for me at this conference, both of these tools had direct relevance to my work since the metadata that I create, remediate and otherwise ‘wrangle’, disappears (for me) into these programs and reappears on the public discovery/access side. I wanted to know more about how this process worked, and I was not disappointed. Both workshops gave me a great overview of the function and possibilities of these tools, in particular when it comes to geographic metadata (which is a popular topic both in my work and in libraries more generally at the moment). That evening, back in my hotel room, I was able to get my own installation of Blacklight running on my laptop, which I tweeted about with glee.

The conference schedule included diverse topics which occurred so that the talks built upon each other – whether this was through ingenious planning or serendipity, the result was brilliant. Three areas of discussion really caught my attention and professional imagination: data visualization, working with structured cataloging data/metadata, and handling geographic data and discovery. Some of the tools and resources discussed, particularly in the area of data visualization and structured metadata, I already had experience with; but these talks, like Quick and Easy Data Visualization with Google Visualization API and Google Chart Libraries and Structured Data NOW: seeding schema.org in library systems, still offered many new ideas to this metadata person. Alternatively, some of the talks were on workflows, tools or resources that were very new to me – like PhantomJS+Selenium: Easy Automated Testing of AJAX-y UIs and Queue Programming—How Using Job Queues Can Make the Library Coding World a Better Place . These talks formed the basis for my Code4Lib bucket list of tools and topics that I will be working through this spring and summer. During the conference, the other participants with knowledge complementary to my own were extremely nice and helpful about explaining concepts that I did not understand. I even got to know better some of the systems engineers who work at my own (admittedly, very large and very siloed) institution as well as in the greater New York City area, which was an excellent added benefit of the 2014 Conference. A strong connection between catalogers/metadata librarians and systems librarians/engineers is, I believe, mutually beneficial, and the Code4Lib Conference helped with the creation and strengthening of these connections. Even better, one of the many Twitter discussions during the conference showed that other attendees agreed with the importance of metadata-systems connections. This was an invaluable discussion for me.

Looking towards the future, I am not sure how to improve the Code4Lib Conference experience – it was that amazing. For myself, I hope to become more involved with my local Code4Lib chapter, following up on the topics that were touched on at the conference. I also hope to help support or co-organize a BIBFRAME pre-conference workshop in an upcoming national conference – this idea growing out of the great discussions during the BIBFRAME/Linked Data break-out sessions. During some of the talks, in particular We Are All Disabled! Universal Web Design Making Web Services Accessible for Everyone, the idea of having sign language interpreters at the next Code4Lib Conference was brought up via Twitter, and I believe the idea was added to the 2015 Conference wiki. I would also imagine that the next conference will need a bigger space, since the 2014 Conference was packed and many more who could not attend expressed interest in future events via social media. As my nearly 900 tweets will tell you, I found interacting with the conference speakers and participants via Twitter a great addition to my experience, even considering the issues with the Wi-Fi (which is an obvious area of improvement, but not the fault of the 2014 Conference organizers). Additionally, the tour of the NC State Hunt Library blew my mind, and I wonder if a tour of local technology and/or library hotspots is or should be a regular part of the conference experience.

All things considered, the 2014 Code4Lib Conference was absolutely amazing, and I look forward to not only attending the 2015 Conference, but to being more involved with the Code4Lib community. Thank you to both the conference organizers and the sponsors for the opportunity to attend this year. It has positively changed my perspective on both my professional community and my career path.

Christina Harlow @cm_harlow cmh2166@columbia.edu