Computers in Libraries 2014 – Day One Wrap Up

Before you read much further you should understand that I’m a web guy. If my library would let me do it, that’d be my official title:

Daniel Messer
Library Web Guy

So many, if not all, of the sessions I attended at Computers in Libraries 2014 have something to do with the web. If that’s not your schtick, then you can probably skip this. Actually, there are a hundred other reasons to skip this, but that one would be in the top three.

CiL2014 features a theme of hacking the library, something I’ve got some experience with. After all, I was hacking together software to make Polaris do things that it didn’t yet do. There are days that I need to get something out of the catalogue and it takes a bit of wringing to return the results. Maybe I’ll force things to appear where they shouldn’t, and then pull them out at a specific time. In the words of David Weinberger, the opening keynote for Monday, this is white hat hacking.

white hats hacking societyFor those who don’t know that hackers wear different hats, some interchangeably, there are three hats we talk about in the computer world.

  • White hat hacking – Manipulating and deriving benefit from a system by using it in ways it was not originally intended.
  • Black hat hacking – Manipulating and molesting a system to exploit, break, or otherwise compromise the system for personal gain.
  • Grey hat hacking – A combination of the two. For instance, a grey hat hacker may find as security hole in a system and report the hole to the system operators. Then they might give those operators a set amount of time to fix that hole before releasing their knowledge into the wild, exposing the flaw.

Either way, what I do is nothing but white hat stuff. I don’t want to break the system because, after all, I’d have to help fix it. That seems counter productive to my job-related goals. However I have no problem using a system in new and unintended ways. William Gibson once wrote that the street finds its own uses for things.

And that, my friends, lies at the heart of cyberpunk philosophy. Welcome to my blog.

20140407_111347If there was an overriding theme fro my first day at CiL 2014 it was “upgrade and change.” UNC Chapel Hill’s web folks came and discussed how they took a website that was basically nothing but a link farm, with 25,000 documents and assets, and migrated that to a WordPress solution with only 250 or so published pages. As a WordPress geek, that kind of thing really turns my head. Beyond that, they also discussed content management in WordPress, a concept I’m almost intimately connected with.

My title may not be Library Web Guy, but I’m certainly the Web Content Manager. I know that because it says so on my business cards. Content management may sound bland, and it probably is, but I enjoy it. While some librarians like ordering new books and materials, and others adore wading through eBook catalogues to get more digital stuff, I like things that are more immediate. Because most of what I put on the web didn’t exist a few days ago. It had to be created by somebody, sometimes me but just as often other great folks within my library system, then it had to be added to the website. That’s exciting, to be able to put something online that no one has ever seen before.

I Can See You by toniinfante.

I Can See You by toniinfante.

And to be able to do it within the structure and framework of a CMS like WordPress? Let’s just say that, to me, the combination of WordPress and libraries is like peanut butter and chocolate. Ice cream and cookies. Sherlock Holmes and Cthulhu cults.

Then again, I never claimed to be normal.

Adapting a website is a huge job, especially when you’ve got one managed almost entirely by hand. I can’t help but think that the work is worth it though. With the right tools, ideas, and people you get something far better — and if you can run it on a free and open source framework? All’s the better.

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