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Tales from a Web Librarian

Code4Lib Midsummer Conference

Last week I attended (and presented at) the very awesome and slightly intimidating Code4Lib NYS Midsummer 'Unconference' held at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY! From their website

"code4lib isn't entirely about code or libraries. It is a volunteer-driven collective of hackers, designers, architects, curators, catalogers, artists and instigators from around the world, who largely work for and with libraries, archives and museums on technology 'stuff.'"

It was my first experience at a code4lib conference and, now, I can confidently say it won't be my last! I was initially worried that much of the content would be over my head and programmers/developers would laugh at my rudimentary knowledge and unimpressive application of said knowledge BUT it wasn't that at all! Some of the topics were more advanced but my fellow librarians and library techies were extremely welcoming, encouraging, and downright nice. (Thank goodness, because I presented in front of about 120 of them)

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The 'unconference' was held over two days, with a relaxed but structured schedule.

DAY 1

Thursday morning consisted of 3-hour workshops on a topic of your choice (Fedora, Command Line Interface, or Write-the-Docs Bootcamp). The workshops were designed as a two-part series, so Friday's session would be part 2 of Thursday's topic.

I decided to tackle Write-the-Docs led by Gillian Byrne and Christina Harlow. The first session was a guided discussion of documentation best practices and failures, with a focus on documentation for cross-institutional and cross-departmental collaborative technology and data projects. It was a great chance for all of us to connect on our experiences with documentation and to share our frustrations and triumphs at various institutions.

Documentation? Essential. Starting it? Kind of annoying. Making it clear and concise? Work-in-progress. Trying to write down your second-nature workflows in a way that's documentable and clear to someone else? Oh boy.

Christina and Gillian shared some great suggestions on how to get the ball rolling, like the use of headers - they are key! They also dropped this vital bit of advice: "Start in an area where you have agency. Don’t write documents for other departments." 

After lunch, I made my way to a breakout session titled 'Emerging Technologies: Instruction Methods and Program Ideas for One-Shot Library Workshops.' I was eager to join this discussion as I will be teaching classes come September (!!!). Jennifer Brown led an enthusiastic discourse on how to engage your students and promote your resources in the classroom which I found super useful.

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Speaker Patricia Hswe ended the day with a thoughtful talk on the ways in which empathy affects the work that we do, as librarians and educators.

DAY 2

Friday morning I arrived bright and early for Write-the-Docs bootcamp. After some brief introductions (and many cups of coffee) Christina and Gillian launched the document-athon, giving us a chance to apply what we learned on Thursday to start, expand, or work on our own project documentation.

I started work on documenting some of my workflows. I decided to use GitHub's Wiki for documentation, mostly because I wanted to try something new (all I ever use is Google Drive and it definitely has its limitations). I quickly discovered this was going to be more labor intensive than I expected because

  1. I had to stumble around in Github for a bit to get my bearings.
  2. The step I had to break down was dependent on what operating system you used. So what normally takes me 30 seconds to do (and maybe 2 minutes to explain) became a 'choose-your-own-adventure' type instruction manual.

Before I knew it, our time was up and I had only completed writing 80% of one task on the guide. (Check it out here if you're so inclined... ) Obviously, it really made me thankful for all of the time and effort people spend creating documentation (thank you documenters!).

After lunch I attended a breakout session about Docker, a container for applications often used by library techies. Containers wrap applications in a piece of software that contains everything it needs to run: code, runtime, system tools, system libraries – anything that can be installed on a server. It makes sure that an application will always run the same, regardless of its environment, and also frees up disk usage.

I signed up and created a basic WordPress site in about 30 seconds using Docker. It was pretty cool!

After the session, I headed over to the main conference room for lightning talks (and my presentation!).

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I love lightning talks for many reasons but mostly because they are great ways to get a bunch of information from many different people in a relatively small time frame. My presentation was on website redevelopment (which is what I'm in charge of right now at Stony) and how to successfully transform your web presence. It felt great to get up there and share some knowledge with a super inspiring group of people - everyone was so encouraging (and of course loved my BB8 thumbs-up gif)!

Perhaps one of my favorite things about this conference was how open everything was. Every resource, every file, every discussion was shared - be it on GitHub, GoogleDrive, or  other hosting platform. One of the workshops I attended even encouraged participants to add notes to the presentation documents! It felt more like a big community of old and new friends getting together to share tips, tackle workflow issues, create programs, and experiment. I can't say enough great things about it.