I had an enjoyable and educational time at Code4Lib 2014. It was my first time attending any Code4Lib event, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be there, thanks to the Diversity Scholarship sponsored by the Council on Library and Information Resources/Digital Library Federation, EBSCO, ProQuest, and Sumana Harihareswara. Thank you to the sponsors, the scholarship and organizing committees, and everyone else involved with the conference for this amazing learning experience!
Things that went well
I appreciated that the conference was one-track and was recorded. It meant that, except during the pre-conference day, I didn’t have to make any hard decisions about which talks to attend; we all got to attend everything! I think the one-track nature of the conference is particularly important in light of Sumana Harihareswara’s keynote about the value we place on empathy and user-centricity: it’s easy for coders to choose “more technical” sessions and miss talks about accessibility and user experience, which are absolutely vital to what we do, but are often undervalued. I know I was not the only person in the room who learned new and useful information from Cynthia Ng’s talk, so I’m glad that we were all there to benefit from it. I’m also glad it was recorded, because I now have the ability to share it with my Web Team.
In terms of the first-time Code4Lib experience, I am grateful that people warned me about the inevitability of impostor syndrome (and exhaustion), when one attends C4L talks all day. Out of all of the communication I received before conference, that was the second most vital thing, right behind the message, both implicit (e.g. the existence of the newcomer dinners, messages to the email list aimed at newbies) and explicit (e.g. the “how to hack C4L” wiki post, the content of various emails from and conversations with veteran attendees), that new people are welcome and are invited to participate fully. Before conference, just reading over the schedule, I felt completely outclassed–still excited about attending, because these are competencies I want to master, but also really intimidated. All of the welcoming messaging and the references to “the fire hose of information,” with the clear indication that nobody understands everything, calmed me down. I’m still not willing to publicly guess at the percentage of the conference that I completely understood, but I know all of the talks are online, when I need to refer back to them; I really appreciate that.
I was also delighted to have the chance to meet both of our keynote speakers, Sumana Harihareswara and Valerie Aurora, whose keynotes added tremendously to the value of the conference. They are both personal heroes of mine, so I was extra pleased that they took the time to attend sessions and meals and to have conversations with people at the conference! I am grateful to Sumana for all of the time she spent answering questions about Hacker School—and to both of them for running the Allies Workshop as part of the LibTechGender pre-conference.
NCSU is amazing! They were great hosts and really nice about answering the questions they must get asked repeatedly. I have so many pictures to share with the building manager of my library!
Suggestions for future conference organizers
In terms of what could be improved about the conference, I know I was not the only person who missed multiple pre-conferences that would have been worth attending. (Yes, I appear to be complaining about too much of a good thing.) I enjoyed the LibTechGender pre-conference, which I helped to plan and execute, and I’d like to believe it contributed in a valuable way to the ongoing conversation about inclusiveness in library technology and leadership; however, because it was a full day, I missed the Summon and Blacklight hackathons as well as the session about test-driven development, all of which would have directly helped with my work. It might not be reasonable to have two full days of pre-conferences—though if the quality and variety this year is representative, perhaps it would be—so perhaps the first day could consist of three sessions? Nine hours of sessions makes for a long day, I know, even with breaks. Maybe limiting pre-conferences to a half day would be a more popular approach. Or maybe we find space for hackathons and longer form tutorial-type content during the conference itself.
I obviously don’t have the solution, but I know a lot of us felt that we missed a lot of potential value on the pre-conference day, even while we got value out of what we were doing. Recording the sessions won’t solve it, but maybe there’s some other way to mitigate that feeling—that reality, actually. It seems like something worth thinking about.
Now, this isn’t so much a suggestion, in terms of something new, but rather an exhortation to continue a good thing: I really appreciated having food available that was safe for me to eat (and still interesting and different each day), as well as the women’s-cut t-shirts. They seem like such little things, but they added so very much to the feeling of inclusiveness and to my comfort at the conference!
… I really like this community and this conference, and I could see it easily becoming my home in the library world. I’ve committed to a couple more years of attendance at ALA Midwinter and Annual, but I would like to find a way to make Code4Lib my main conference.