Some of you have already seen the live feed or the recordings for last week’s Code4Lib conference. If you have, you might already know that I was the keynote speaker for that conference. (The archive page is here, my part is about 90 minutes into session 1; slides are available too). The whole story of how I got there is interesting, and beyond that I’d like to talk about what I took away from it. I attended all of Tuesday and Wednesday, and left Thursday morning (after my return from ALA Midwinter in January, I’ve developed a strong disincentive to book the last flights into Ithaca from anywhere), thus missing the Thursday morning events. I’ve since caught up with those recordings.
The invitation came from conference host Robert McDonald, and was totally out of the blue. Code4Lib has an admirable process for choosing keynoters–they have a wiki and backchannel list (that anyone can join), which keeps the voting off the main discussion list. I’ve never attended Code4Lib before, though I’ve been a lurker and an occasional participant in the discussions on the list for some years, and I know many of the regulars. As someone who hadn’t attended the conference before, it never dawned on me to participate in the voting. I didn’t get the most votes, but when the high vote getter turned them down, I was asked. At first I was pretty intimidated by the whole idea, but that passed fairly quickly, and I started to get excited by the challenge it represented, both for me personally, and as a representative of a whole host of librarians who never get a chance to talk to a room full of library programmers. It was clearly not an opportunity to be wasted.
I gave a lot of thought to what I wanted to talk about, and started and abandoned several topics before settling on one. It clicked for me when I participated in a discussion at ALA Midwinter amongst attendees at the organizing meeting for the Linked Library Data IG. The discussion was about the discouraging fact that programmers and librarians (particularly catalogers) don’t seem to be connecting on the important issues of our libraries, instead we talk past one another. I think the general assumption is that this is a cultural divide, and it is on a superficial level, but a much more important reason is that we almost never gather together to discuss where we’re going. We all work for institutions that we believe are critically important in today’s society, but we’re not working together to solve the problems we can see in front of us.
So my talk for C4L covered a number of areas, including advice to programmers on how to find and connect with librarians/catalogers in their institutions who might be ready to work with them more closely, and what the priorities should be for that work. Despite a fairly rough start to the talk (the IU laptop I was using had a new version of PowerPoint that behaved quite oddly in presenter mode), it went fairly well and the response was wonderful. During the rest of that day and the following one, I had some great conversations with other attendees about the issues I brought up, and there will be some follow through on several of those. I was very pleased in particular that my plea for building demonstration projects that would show how the RDA Vocabularies can be used was taken very seriously, and I will be following up on that one.
One question I threw out to the audience was whether anyone had read our article in DLib, ‘RDA Vocabularies: Process, Outcome, Use’. About a half dozen had, but probably twice that many tweeted the URL, so perhaps some more have read it subsequently. I’m not sure why such a disappointing number have seen the article, but I hope that some who are interested in moving away from the frustrating parsing of MARC data will see the light.
I also talked a bit about how the library world had been ill-served by the narrow marketing of RDA as primarily the guidance text (it’s still happening, unfortunately), as well as the whole RDA testing regime. Because the tests crammed RDA data into MARC, it really doesn’t operate as a test of RDA itself, or of the usefulness of FRBR. What we’ve ended up with is a vast amount of misunderstanding: many traditionalists still believe that RDA is not that different from AACR2, while those who believe that RDA isn’t enough change (or the change we need, to coin a phrase) believe the same thing but come to a different conclusion. As I said to the C4L group: “I get why catalogers like MARC, but I don’t get why you guys aren’t all over the RDA Vocabs.”
After my own time in the spotlight, I became just another participant (the difference was that everybody knew who I was and I had to squint at their badges to see who they were). Thankfully nobody got freaked out that I was knitting socks while listening to other people’s presentations (and at least one pulled out her half-knitted sock to show me). With a laptop in front of me (not to mention IRC and Twitter), I wouldn’t have heard a thing. But, listening to the wide variety of presentations, I was very impressed by the amount of creativity, and the diversity of projects presented. I understood most of it, at least at a general level (though not perhaps on an operational one), and took some notes about a few insights I wanted to think about as I work on various projects. It was really a great conference, and the organizers did a fabulous job with everything. Do take a look at the video, and think about how you might make some connections with the catalogers or programmers in your life. We are all in this together, and we need to find better ways to converse and collaborate to make our ideas real.
Oh, and lest I forget, thanks to all the folks who shared their wonderful and special beer with me during the after hours social time in the hospitality suite. You just may have turned me from an always-wine to a sometimes-beer broad. (And don’t worry, Declan, the beer washed out of my jacket just fine!)