What DPLA and DLF Can Learn from Code4lib

Posted by Mark Matienzo in February 18, 2015.

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This post has been crossposted to the Digital Library Federation blog.

Code4lib 2015 was held last week from February 9-12, 2015 in Portland, Oregon. The Code4lib conferences have grown in the last ten years, both in terms of size and scope of topics. This growth is particularly impressive when you consider that much of the work of organizing the conference falls upon a circulating group of volunteers, with additional organizational support from organizations like the Digital Library Federation. It has become clear to me that the Code4lib community is interested in ensuring that it can develop and support compelling and useful conferences for everyone who chooses to participate.

I believe communities like Code4lib are important for organizations like the Digital Public Library of America and the DLF in several ways. First, Code4lib conferences provide a structure that allows its community members to have venue to act on areas of interest. While Code4lib has a similar process to the DLF Forum for selecting sessions, the key difference is there are ample opportunities with semi-structured time for community members to self-organize. For example, each Code4lib conference has multiple blocks for five-minute lightning talks that open for signup at the conference itself. These presentations are often the most memorable content from the Code4lib conferences, as they include an element of risk, such as a live demo, an unrehearsed presentation, or untested ideas. Code4lib also ensures ample time for breakout sessions. Like lightning talks, topics for breakout sessions are determined at the conference itself, rather than in advance. These topics can range quite widely, from working sessions to collaborate on software development, to discussing ways to work through very specific but shared problems.

Secondly, Code4lib and communities like it provide a forum to talk through their values openly and honestly. While it was not an easy conversation, the community deliberated and ultimately developed a code of conduct for its conference and online channels. Conference presentations at this year’s Code4lib have also made it clear that there are social implications for the cultural heritage technology community in terms of how we adopt, develop, and release open source software, such as “Your Code Does Not Exist in a Vacuum” by Becky Yoose, and Jason Casden and Bret Davidson’s presentation, “Beyond Open Source.” Other important presentations from this year that talk about values within our community include Jennie Rose Halperin’s “Our $50,000 Problem: Why Library School?”; Margaret Heller, Christina Salazar and May Yan’s “How To Hack it as a Working Parent”; and the two keynote presentations by Selena Deckelmann and Andromeda Yelton.

Finally, Code4lib is important to organizations like DLF and DPLA because it provides the opportunity to have a strong regional focus. When community members have significant interest to see an event in their region, they are welcome to organize regional meetings or groups along the same rough model. So far, this has included several regional meetings in the United States and Canada, as well as two regional groups in Europe, Code4lib Japan, and Code4GLAM Australia. Having this flexibility can make it easier for people access to large travel budgets to participate in a larger community, and can improve outreach opportunities for organizations like DPLA and DLF.

DPLA and DLF have a great opportunity to support and learn more from the vibrant Code4lib community, by encouraging members within our networks to self-organize in similar ways. In particular, we at DPLA look forward to providing an opportunity to do this at DPLAfest 2015, to be held April 17-18, 2015 in Indianapolis. We are particularly eager to see members of the DLF and Code4lib communities attend and participate in shaping large-scale cultural heritage networks for the future. In addition, DPLA and DLF are offering DPLAfest 2015 cross-pollinator travel grants to support attendance by staff from DLF members not currently part of a DPLA Hub team. Please consider applying – we would love to support your attendance!