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bootstrapping a community (one preconference at a time)

Here’s how I know this year’s code4lib preconference was a success: Karen Coombs said

Probably the thing I liked the best was just getting a chance to sit down, play with code, and have other people help me figure things out. The moment that captured the spirit of the conference for me was sitting with Terry Resse and Erik Hatcher talking about and playing with Solr. I learned a lot and got a tangible idea about how I was going to integrate a Solr-based application into my site. When I started the conference I felt overwhelmed with trying to get Solr running and building a usable application. By the end of the conference, my level of confidence was much greater. A great deal of that just had to do with working on stuff and having people answer questions and solve problems. It is a great feeling to come away with and one of the things that I value most about the code4lib community.

Amen to that! A major obstacle to getting more open source software deployed in libraries is the lack of training opportunities for library staff. There are a few people who are good at teaching themselves from websites and reading code, but there aren’t enough of those people to do all the work that needs to be done. Far more common is the library staff member who would like to get into open source, or perhaps is already into certain parts of it, but has no local support for picking up new skills or trying out new technologies. And like Karen said, the most useful “training” is often just the ability to play around with something in a supportive environment, where people will help you if you get stuck. (And the opportunity to set aside time to do it!)

I think that this is a gap that code4lib, and the code4lib conference in particular, could fill nicely. Just as hackfest has become an institution at Access, I’d like to see these preconferences become a regular event at code4lib con. They aren’t too hard to put together (easy for me to say, right Erik?), they don’t cost much, but the benefit for the community is tremendous. In many cases folks can get funding to attend training when they wouldn’t have gotten it just to attend the conference (I had many people write to tell me this, that the only reason they got funding to attend code4lib con was because they were also attending a solr/lucene workshop).

I hope someone is going to step up to the plate and organize one for next year. I heard a lot of buzz around xforms, ruby, and cocoon at this year’s code4lib, for example. Are there other topics folks would like to see covered? Come on code4lib, who is going to organize next year’s preconference?

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