in Conference, Library Catalog, Open Data, Vendors

code4lib 2007

Working Code Wins
Responding to increasing consolidation in the ILS market, library developers demonstrated alternatives and supplements to library software at the second annual code4lib conference in Athens, GA, February 27-March 2, 2007. With 140 registered attendees from many states and several countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom, the conference was a hot destination for a previously isolated group of developers.

Network connectivity was a challenge for the Georgia Center for Continuing Education, but the hyperconnected group kept things interesting and the attendees coordinated by Roy Tennant artfully architected workarounds and improvements as the conference progressed.

In a nice mixture of emerging conference trends, code4lib combined the flexibility of the unconference with 20 minute prepared talks, keynotes, five minute Lightning Talks, and breakout sessions. The form was derived from Access, the Canadian library conference.

The conference opened with a talk from Karen Schneider, associate director for technology and research at Florida State University. She challenged the attendees to sell open source software to directors in terms of solutions it provides, since the larger issue in libraries is saving digital information. Schneider also debated Ben Ostrowsky, systems librarian at the Tampa Bay Library Consortium, about the importance of open source software from the stage, to which Ostrowsky responded, “Isn’t that Firefox [a popular open source browser] you’re using there?”

Erik Hatcher, author of Lucene in Action, gave a keynote about using the full-text search server, Apache Solr, open-source search engine Lucene and faceted browser, Flare, to construct a new front-end to library catalog data. The previous day, Hatcher led a free preconference for 80 librarians who brought exported MARC records, including Villanova University and the University of Virginia.

One of the best-received talks revolved around BibApp, an “institutional bibliography” written in Ruby on Rails by Nate Vack and Eric Larson, two librarians at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The prototype application is available for download, but currently relies on citation data from engineering databases to construct a profile of popular journals, publishers, citation types, and who researchers are publishing with. “This is copywrong, which is sometimes what you have to do to construct digital library projects. Then you get money to license it,” Larson said.

More controversially, Luis Salazar gave a talk about using Linux to power public computing in the Howard County (MD) public library system. A former NSA systems administrator, he presented the pros and cons of supporting 300 staff and 400 public access computers using Groovix, a customized Linux distribution. Since the abundant number of computers serves the public without needing sign up sheets, “patrons are able to sit down and do what they want.”

Salazar created a script for monitoring all the public computers, and described how he engaged in a dialog with a patron he dubbed “Hacker Jon,” who used the library computers to develop his nascent scripting skills. Bess Sadler, librarian and metadata services specialist at the University of Virginia, asked about the privacy implications of monitoring patrons. “Do you have a click-through agreement? Privacy Policy?” she asked. Salazar joked that “It’s Maryland, we’re like a communist country” and said he wouldn’t do anything in a public library that he wouldn’t expect to be monitored.

Casey Durfee presented a talk on “Endeca in 250 lines of code or less,” which showed a prototype of faceted searching at the Seattle Public Library. The new catalog front-end sits on top of a Horizon catalog, and uses Python and Solr to present results in an elegant display, from a Google-inspired single search box start to rich subject browse options.

The future
This year’s sponsors included Talis, LibLime, OCLC, Logical Choice Technologies, and Oregon State University. OSU awarded two scholarships to Nicole Engard, Jenkins Law Library (2007 LJ Mover and Shaker), and Joshua Gomez, Getty Research Institute.

Next year’s conference will be held in Portland, OR.

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