I'm glad for Donna Dinberg's post, as it crystallizes my overnight
thinking about code4lib and its currently-vaporware journal. This message
may turn long and discursive, for which I apologize in advance.
Code4lib started out as and in many ways still *is* a core group of
library tech people, a group with history, in-jokes, and its own fiery
small-group energy. Roughly half of what I see in this discussion boils
down to a desire for code4lib to continue and expand upon its
achievements, while essentially remaining a self-contained group.
(Certainly a group that welcomes new members -- but still, a
self-contained and self-defined group of people.)
*If that is the desire*, then code4lib.org should fulfill the necessary
communication functions admirably. I will go further: if that is the
desire, a journal of any stripe is useless and may be actively
detrimental. A journal (whatever its pretensions) *isn't really for* the
members of an in-group. It's the in-group's vehicle for reaching outside
And that's what I see in the other half of this discussion, which turns
upon broadening code4lib into a larger phenomenon within the library (and
tech? not sure) world. This has implications for the small group. Like it
or not, a small group that wants to become a movement within a larger one
has to analyze, consider, and play to the larger group's ways of thinking,
behaving, and communicating.
Inevitably, this means some loss to the small-group culture; in-jokes
don't scale. A couple of bumps and bruises that happened on the way to
code4libcon suggest the kind of outer-directedness and circumspection that
code4lib does not yet have, but *will need* if it is to speak out to the
larger professions (both software development and librarianship, but
It also means that Muhammad will have to go talk to the mountain. In
librarianship terms, that means conferences (which code4lib has already
pulled off), and a journal or something very like it. For all the violent
"Library 2.0" handwaving, the bulk of my work colleagues barely tolerate
listservs, do not read blogs, think wikis are weird, and are afraid to
tinker with their software preferences. Journals they understand. Journals
have ISSNs, can be catalogued and routed and indexed. Journals have
stability (both actual and semiotic) that blogs often lack. Journals are
an accepted library communications medium.
Now, code4lib's core is, shall I say, hardcore. Real Developers.
Definitely we don't want to lose that in a welter of shiny new IM toys and
the latest hot end-user out-of-the-box app. Code4lib does not want to
become Computers in Libraries, in other words. Nor, I'm fairly sure, does
it want to go the ITAL/JASIST "whee! theory!" route. Nor does it have an
exclusive focus on "digital libraries" -- it's broader than that, it's
about code in libraries *wherever code happens*, and code happens all over
the place in today's libraries.
I agree that quite a bit of code4lib's ordinary output (on the channel and
on member blogs) deserves wider dissemination in the library world. The
question then becomes "which parts of the library world need to listen?"
Donna's post suggests a criminally underserved population, one I think
code4lib could profitably target along with its developer core: the
"accidental" library tech. We are not developers. We have extremely
limited formal training in computers when we have any at all. We tend to
have pretty good technical aptitude, we may have one or two areas of
genuine technical expertise, and we can talk to Real Developers without
(often) sounding like idiots... but we rely on others to do the
major-league coding and to haul us out of the fire when we break
something. Some of us do grow up to be Real Developers, though, and I
believe it behooves code4lib to think about how to make that happen more
Barring Rachel Singer Gordon's excellent book, there is NOTHING out there
for us. Nothing. ITAL and JASIST are too divorced from daily library
practice and problems (aside from the occasional ITAL squib with a good
hack in it). Computers in Libraries (both mag and conference) is too
fluffy, and doesn't usually put us in touch with the Real Developers who
can and are willing to lend us a hand. Library Hi-Tech is pretty good, but
still not quite right (and not OA, either). Blogs are great, and we both
read and write blogs, but blogs have limits, and aren't smiled upon by our
managers and retention/promotion committees. We *do not have* a
library-blessed communications organ.
I frankly don't think such an organ needs to be peer-reviewed, even
considering retention/promotion concerns, because enough of an aura clings
to techie stuff in librarianship that nobody cares that D-Lib and Ariadne
aren't; a publication in either one is still going to impress the
So. Summary. Code4lib needs to decide if its communications goals are
internally or externally focused. If internally, then code4lib.org should
continue pretty much as is. If externally, code4lib then needs to identify
the populations it wishes to communicate to, and present those
communications in a fashion acceptable to the larger world. Accidental
sysadmins are an underserved population that code4lib could intelligently
and profitably target.
Ite, missa est.