Code4Lib is many things. It is an IRC Channel, a hashtag on twitter, and of course an annual conference. The group is comprised of programmers, libraries and librarians, designers, curators, and many other types of people who work to support their libraries, archives, and museums (more info on what Code4Lib is all about). The annual conference of the meeting of the minds (as I like to call it) has been happening once a year since 2006. The conference was held in Raleigh, NC this year and was from March 24-27. As one of the resident computer nerds here at the Smithsonian Libraries, I was fortunate enough to be chosen by the powers that be to attend the conference this year and represent the Libraries.
One of my favorite parts of the conference was the opening keynote on the importance of user experience. The speaker, Sumana Harihareswara, works at Wikimedia and went to hacker school over the summer. She told some jokes and some anecdotes but the key points I got from her keynote were how important user experience is in web design and application development today and how little the developers and programmers pay attention to what the users want.
Something else that was mentioned was how the programmers and designers think they know what users wants and never actually ask users. This has been a trend in programming and in web design in previous years. Here at the Smithsonian Libraries, we address user experience through surveys, committees and lots of planning. As much as I can get frustrated with all of the red tape that I encounter when I am designing and developing, I have to say that it pays off. It ensures that our researchers, curators, and other users have a positive experience when using our website. Something else Sumana discussed was User Experience testing, which is something that we implemented recently, when we released our updated Tools for the Researcher (which incorporates ProQuest products for searching our catalog and serials).
One of the other things that really stood out to me during the rest of the presentations was the use of web sockets for real-time metrics and the interactive web-interfaces they built to display the information. It was really interesting and somewhat like super analytics where you could see up-to-date information. Anytime someone was on their website, they could see exactly what page they were on and precisely where they had been.
Overall, I would say that Code4Lib was a very enjoyable experience. They have such a mixed bag of people that attend the conference, so satisfying everyone from the not-super-technical librarians to the IT people that support libraries was a challenge that I believe they faced head on and tackled admirably. It was both interesting and informative and I look forward to next year, in Portland.
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