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Access2007 Conference and my first Hackfest experience

October 13th, 2007 · 1 Comment · Meetings & Presentations

Today is the last day of the Access Library Technology Conference conference here in sunny Victoria, BC.. Archives have usually been the poor cousins to Libraries when it comes to deploying IT and, based on what I’ve seen and heard over the past few days, that’s still the case. Therefore, this conference is a great opportunity to hear about where Archives IT will likely be in the next couple of years.

The predominant, underlying theme of the sessions here has been the dissatisfaction of libraries with their traditional OPAC access systems and ILS vendors. This has led to a growing interest in adding Web 2.0 layers on top of those platforms and supporting open-source solutions as a legitimate alternative to commercial products (namely Evergreen and Koha).

Of particular interest to the many locals in the audience was the recent decision of the Association of BC Public Libraries to deploy and support the open-source Evergreen ILS throughout their network. According to their rough estimates, this will give them a costs savings of about $15 million dollars in vendor license and support fees over the next few years. That is savings left-over after subtracting the total cost of ownership for deploying, hosting and supporting Evergreen.

From a technical point of view, I heard a lot about faceted search. In particular how this can be provided by Solr, the web-services wrapper for the Lucene search engine. I also met a lot of the people involved in the Aloutte Canada project and learned more about the high-level vision, the back-end technical architecture of the Aloutte portal, and the grassroots user requirements. This was very useful to me as the ICA-AtoM project is now collaborating with the Aloutte Metadata Toolkit on the underlying platform to build our respective applications (which share about 95% of the same functional and user requirements).

myHackfest at Access2007

All in all, therefore, the Access2007 conference turned out to be a productive use of my time. The highlight, however, was the Hackfest held on the first day. On Wednesday I took the early Harbour Air flight from downtown Vancouver just in time to land in Victoria Harbour at 8am and catch the shuttle bus, loaded with 40 fellow geeks, leaving the conference hotel for the University of Victoria where Hackfest was being held.

Hackfest is a one day event prior to the Access conference where small groups of library geeks team up to work on a specific IT problem. The actual projects are nominated online prior to the conference and only revealed to the Hackfest participants on the day of the event. This year there were about 24 nominated projects. The participants self-organized themselves into project teams which ended up addressing about 10 project proposals. After reading through the short, one-sentence descriptions, I put my name down under the “Evergreen in One Day” session and “Face the Facebook Facts” but ended up working on the GoogleMaps Canadian Library Locations
project.

The idea behind the project was fairly straight-forward. Take a database of Canadian Inter-Library Loan locations and put them on a GoogleMap so that a user looking for a book that is not available at their local library can easily locate the nearest library that does have it on an interactive map that links to the library websites. Two years ago this would have been cutting-edge. In October 2007 this is something that is already pretty pedestrian. Nevertheless, map-based browsing is something useful to work on that I can apply to my ICA-AtoM work. We ended up using the PHP GoogleMapAPI which I had already used previously in an ICA-AtoM prototype.

We spent a significant part of the day on the import of ILL data (which one team member had brought as an Excel spreadsheet), server setup, API integration and the MySQL connection to the PHP script. We got it working by the end of the day but unfortunately did not have enough time to address the user interface. A follow-up to this Hackfest project would be to add user-interface controls to filter and search on other criteria like name, city, province, library type, etc. and to determine a usability strategy for adding 100+ hits on a map. Nevertheless, the constraints of a one-day project was a fun challenge and it was a pleasure to work collaboratively with a small team on the problem. We posted our results as a filtered display of the 169 results that are returned when searching on ‘University Library’ as an ILL library type. I then did a quick 5 minute presentation of the results to the rest of the conference during one of the designated half-hours for Hackfest updates. Lots of fun. Hopefully I will have time to participate in Hackfest and Access2008 next year.

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Catherine Lindsay // Oct 14, 2007 at 4:38 pm

    Good idea to post your blog link on the FB Access page in the meantime. Hopefully others will follow suit. Nice meeting you.

    Catherine Lindsay (GVPL)