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Reports from the Field

Reports from the Field: In this series, MPublishing staff share their thoughts & experiences with us from conferences, workshops, events and other collaborative projects. This post is by Seth Johnson, a programmer in the Publishing Technology Group at MPublishing, who recently attended Code4Lib.

This year’s code4lib conference presented a dizzying array of information by and for the programmers and technologists working in library environments. The pace of the conference is very fast: most talks were 20 minutes long, although there are also a large number of more informal lightning talks that were strictly limited to no more then 5 minutes. Over the two and a half days of the conference there were easily over 50 presentations often from quite distinctive perspectives on diverse subjects, not including the many informal discussions that took place within this highly energetic and enthusiastic crowd.

As publishers working within a library space, it can sometimes be difficult to find peers facing the same sort of challenges that we are and I once again found that the focus of the majority of code4lib attendees didn’t always match up with the obvious emphasis that we as publishers place on “making new stuff.”  However, from a technical and user experience perspective there are many similarities that are worth exploring.

An area that I noticed an interest in was behavior driven development (BDD) using tools like cucumber; using user stories to drive the development and testing of applications. Another possibly more prevalent trend was in the creation and use of systems comprising multiple components as opposed to a monolithic system; whether with ‘true’ microservices as in Sean Hannan’s “Lets Get Small” talk, or using a stack of technologies to provide an integrated service similar to the architecture the Hydra Project is built on.

There is so much diversity among the technologies and techniques that people are using to get different jobs done in their libraries it’s humbling. Below are summaries of some of the presentations, there are far too many to list them all. Those listed below are just a few of the many that I found interesting. For a full listing see the code4lib 2011 conference schedule.

One Week, One Tool: Ultra-Rapid Open Source Development Among Strangers. Scott Hanrath from the University of Kansas Libraries presented on his experiences at One Week One Tool and the development of  Anthologize, a wordpress plugin that turns blogs into ebooks. It was really inspiring to hear about a working, useful tool being produced (from initial concept to release) in just one week. It shows what a small group of determined people can accomplish when they put their minds to it.

Chicago Underground Library’s Community-Based Cataloging System. Margaret Heller and Nell Taylor of the Chicago Underground Library gave an interesting presentation on the work their library is doing and the challenges of running an open, location-specific archive staffed exclusively by volunteers. Really interesting comments about the ‘obsessive’ cataloging practices performed by non-professional volunteers which generates rich metadata that is not only compelling in itself but also works really well for search engine optimization.

fiwalk With Me: Building Emergent Pre-Ingest Workflows for Digital Archival Records using Open Source Forensic Software. Yale’s Mark Matienzo gave a surprisingly (to me) fascinating talk on using Open Source digital forensic software when dealing with born digital archival material. Here is another instance of a microservices workflow solution but in this case in the realm of digital archiving.

Mendeley’s API and University Libraries: Three Examples to Create Value. Mendeley‘s Ian Mulvany gave a somewhat refreshingly straight forward talk on the efforts and goals of this London based start up. The possibility of creating a ‘Last.FM’ style recommendation system for scholarly articles is intriguing and something that I believe will exist in some form sooner rather than later as end users come to expect these kinds of services more and more. Mendely may or may not be the entity that can pull this off, but I admire that they’re undertaking such an audacious project.

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