Friday, February 26, 2010

code4lib 2010

Just back from code4lib 2010 in Asheville, North Carolina. A few quick comments today--mostly about the 2 keynote talks. Cathy Marshall, Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research, and Paul Jones, ibiblio, etc., each gave an excellent talk. Marshall's ethnographic investigation into people's behaviors over time with their digital stuff (especially with respect to keeping or not keeping it) was a fun and thought-provoking start to the conference. Her work points to complexities with the intersection of keeping and losing, discovering and remembering, neglect and curation.

Jones' talk built in part on Robin Dunbar's anthropological studies of primates' behavior in building and maintaining social relationships. His work shows how human urge to relate to one another drives what we know and act on. He noted the shift in the past year from Web use driven by search engine results to Web use driven by recommendations via social networks. It's all about how the power of small talk--gossip--to build trusted relationships among people drives how we think and act.

Marshall's talk keeps recurring to me as I think about preservation, discovery, and use of our shared digital stuff. How do Marshall's insights into how we actually behave with our own digital stuff affect our thinking and actions as institutions preserving digital stuff for later reuse?

Jones' talk keeps recurring to me as I think about how libraries might facilitate discovery and use of information by focusing on social networks rather than search tools. What would happen if we thought of a catalog as part of a social networking environment and not as an isolated search engine?

The many talks varied a lot in character, topic, approach, and quality. As a whole, they were good to excellent presentations, and aggregated like this they presented a snapshot of where the coder and librarian intersect is now. The lightning talks work well to diminish the distinction between active presenters and passive audiences. Dan Chudnov's ask anything hour worked well, too. The key to code4lib is "only connect." The conference became a kind of exemplar of Jones' point about how we create trusted relationships and thus think and act individually as members of small groups.

Overall, my first time at code4lib was great. Gathering this community together is a powerful catalyst for development within the library domain.