Thoughts from a Newcomer: Code4Lib 2018 Recap

by Erica Titkemeyer

After prioritizing audiovisual preservation conferences for so long, this year I chose to attend my first Code4Lib annual conference in Washington, D.C. I looked forward to the talks most directly related to my work, but also knew that there would be many relatable discussions to participate in, as we are all users/creators of library technology tools and we all seek solutions to similar data management challenges.

The conference started with Chris Bourg’s keynote, detailing research on why marginalized individuals are compelled to leave their positions in tech jobs because of undue discrimination. Calling for increased diversity in the workplace, less mansplaining/whitesplaining, more vouching for and amplification of marginalized colleagues, Dr. Bourg set out to “equip the choir”. She also pointed out that Junot Diaz said it best at ALA’s midwinter conference, when he called for a reckoning, explaining that “A profession that is 88% white means 5000% agony for people of color, no matter how liberal and enlightened you think you are.”

I appreciated her decision to use this opportunity to point out our own shortcomings, contradictions and need to do better. I will also say, if you ever needed proof that there is an equity problem in the tech world, you can:

  1. Listen to Dr. Bourg’s talk and
  2. Read the online trolling and harassment that she has since been subjected to because of it.

Since the backlash, Code4Lib has released a Community Statement in support of her remarks.

Following the keynote, the first round of talks further assured me that I had chosen the right conference to attend. In Andreas Orphanides’ talk: “Systems thinking: a practical field guide”, he cleverly pointed out system failures and hacks we all experience in our daily lives, and how they are analogous to the software we might build and where there might be areas for improvement. I also appreciated Julie Swierczek’s talk “For Beginners – No Experience Necessary”, in which she made the case for improving how we teach to true beginners in workshops. She also argued that instructors should not assume everyone is on the same level-playing field just because the title includes “for beginners” as it is not likely that attendees will know how to self-select workshops, especially if they are truly beginners to the technology being taught.

As a fan of Arduino (an open source hardware and software platform that supports DIY electronic prototying), I was curious to hear Monica Maceli’s “Low-cost preservation Environment Monitoring” talk, where she described her experience developing an environmental datalogger using the Raspberry Pi (similar microcontroller concept to Arduino) comparing the results and associated costs with a commercial datalogger, the PEM2. While it would require staff with appropriate expertise, it seemed to be a worthwhile endeavor for anyone wishing to spend a quarter of the price.

With the sunsetting of Flash, I was eager to hear how Jacob Zaborowski’s talk “Save Homestar Runner!: Preserving Flash on the Web” would address the preservation concerns surrounding Homestar Runner, an online cartoon series that began in 2000 using flash animation. Knowing that tools such as Webrecorder and Archive-it would capture, but not aid in preserving the SWF files comprising the animations, Zaborowski sought out free and/or open source tools for transcoding the files to a more accessible and preservation-minded format. Like many audiovisual-based digital formats, tools for transcoding the SWF files were not entirely reliable or capable of migrating all of the unique attributes to a new container with different encodings. At the time of his talk, the folks at Homestar Runner were in the midst of a site redesign to hopefully resolve some of these issues.

While I don’t have the space to summarize all of the talks I found relatable or enlightening during my time at Code4Lib, I think these few that I’ve mentioned show how varied the topics can be, while still managing to complement the information management work we are all charged with doing.

TitkemeyerErica.jpgErica Titkemeyer is the Audiovisual Conservator for the Southern Folklife Collection (SFC) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is the Project Director on the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant Extending the Reach of Southern Audiovisual Sources, and overseas the digitization, preservation and access of audiovisual recordings for the SFC.

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