ALIA Board Nominees in the Spotlight

I know I haven’t blogged here in ages. I’ve been posting to my pregnancy blog and generally busy with being pregnant and working full time.

But my attention was caught by this great blog post from @aliangac where they ask nominees for the ALIA board a series of questions and post the answers. I thought a reflective post on in would be a worthwhile thing to do.

If you don’t work in a library, you may wish to stop here. The rest of this post is likely not to be of interest to you.

I really liked the questions. They’re not hugely hard hitting, but they benefitted a lot from thought and reflection (which some candidates did notably better at than others). They also gave enough room to help distinguish the candidates. I especially appreciated the questions from Kyla. Practical questions are great for this purpose.

The first thing that caught my attention was that only four of the nine nominees answered the questions put to them by the New Grads group. I’m genuinely curious as to why this is? It’s a great opportunity to put your thoughts out there and let voters see why they should vote for you. Not just for new grads but for all of the other ALIA members who are following on Twitter or via the blog. I have no idea why the others didn’t respond but I’m certainly a lot more likely to vote for those that did.

I really appreciated hearing what the candidates had to say. It was possible to get some idea of what their specific interests were and where their talents lie. For me, this helps select people to vote for who are more likely to take ALIA in directions that match my preferences.

I found it interesting that quite a few of the candidates appeared to take an ‘Ask not what ALIA can do for you…’ approach. I’ve noticed this before from people in the profession and don’t necessarily disagree with it. However in this setting with new grads as an audience, this can be as much about selling ALIA as selling themselves as representatives to ALIA. Questions 2 and 4 address this directly and it would have been nice to see some more original responses to these.

It’s of particular interest to me because I did need to be sold ALIA. As a poor student I was unconvinced and even when looking for reasons to join, didn’t find much that spoke to me. The argument that eventually tipped me over was that ALIA accredits library schools and that this is an important and not simple process (thanks to my lecturer Paul Genoni for this and other reasons). Even more convincing would have been strong evidence of ALIA embracing and pushing new technology and helping members get their heads around it. I still think this is an area that other library organisations do better at and ALIA should address more seriously.  I don’t believe that the current PD scheme does this effectively and I have some pretty serious reservations about a mandatory PD scheme overseen by ALIA.

The next thing that stood out was that quite a few answers seemed to take the straight ALIA line with little to no personal additions or interpretation. This would be ok if I wanted to maintain the status quo, but it’s not exactly a compelling argument for adding someone to the board. At least, not to me. I’m more interested to know what you’d do differently, not that you’d keep doing the same things that are currently being done.

So those are my thoughts on the responses so far by nominees. I’m hanging out to read @HughRundle‘s blog post with his questions to nominees and their answers (due March 11). If it’s anything like last time, Hugh will be asking some extremely relevant, up to date and hard hitting questions and it’s always very enlightening to see how nominees handle them. I’m sure it will further help me refine my vote. I’ll blog my resposes to it if I have the time and energy with my advancing pregnancy.

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RailsGirls and the Trove API

Over the weekend I was fortunate enough to attend #RailsGirlsPerth. This was an opportunity for girls to learn about Ruby on Rails, a web programming framework. It was a free event organised by the wonderful Darcy and Marcus, held at Spacecubed.

It kicked off on Friday night with an installfest. I had already installed Rails on Craig’s laptop (which I borrowed for the event) but I went along to meet people and take in the vibe. There were a few people I knew there, but many more that I hadn’t met yet. It was great to see so many women keen to learn how to program in Ruby and so many guys there to help get them started. Railsgirls events were also happening in Brisbane and Sydney. We caught up with them on Skype and I spied a @web_goddess at the Sydney event.

Me and Jo (@history_punk) coding all the things (via @history_punk)

The coding started in earnest on Saturday. Before I knew it, I was up over my head in the niceties of Ruby with the very capable help of Myles and the assistance of some excellent coffee that Darcy had organised. I had decided that I wanted to use the Trove API after being inspired by the wonderful things created by @wragge.

I’ve been hearing about APIs for a few years now but had never used one and I wanted to change that. I also wanted to do something with Twitter. I came up with the idea of extracting vintage knitting patterns from Trove using the API and visualising them in such a way that they can be tweeted.

Initially I was really confused. It had been 12 years since I’d done any really serious programming (in my undergraduate degree) or even used the Windows terminal. I was grouped with three girls who had experience programming in .NET which was a bit intimidating. By lunchtime I was feeling like a rather dim bulb and doubting that I’d have any finished code to show by the end of the day.

Things started coming together as I began to map Rails terms to concepts I’d learned when programming previously (e.g. gems == libraries). It also helped that the Rails framework does a lot of stuff for you (a bit confusing at first if you’re not used to it) and the Ruby syntax is very clean and easy to read. This made it possible to get working stuff together in a day.

I was also grappling with the Trove API and trying to make it output what I wanted. Getting an API key for Trove was super simple and took a few minutes. Coming to terms with the syntax of the API was harder. What I really wanted was an output of the contents of this list. After quite a bit of fiddling, I ended up compromising with a list of the newspaper articles tagged with ‘knitting’. Then it was a matter of harmonising my variables with the metadata I wanted to capture in my database and adding the ability to tweet items. As Myles promised and I had trouble believing, the Twitter part was very easy (about 2 lines of code). It produced tweets like this:

So now I had a working chunk of code that could grab specific content from Trove, display the metadata I was interested in and give the ability to tweet it. However it was only running locally on my laptop. The next challenge was porting it to Heroku, a cloud based service for hosting web apps, so that other people could see it and interact with it. Fortunately, the documentation for setting up Rails on Heroku was top notch and I was mostly able to follow it without hitch. It involved using my first Postgres database which was cool as Postgres helps pay my mortgage (via Craig who is a Postgres developer/consultant).

After some work and a bit of fiddling, I had a working Rails web app hosted on Heroku, pulling in information from Trove and allowing people to tweet items from it. You can see it here. Not bad when I’d just started learning Ruby on Rails that day! Much kudos must go to Myles who talked me through quite a lot of it (and had great patience with me). I don’t fully understand the code I wrote, but I can revisit it and hopefully get my head around it better. I’d like to clean it up a bit, make it more visual and iterate through the Trove output so I can capture and display all 700+ records (rather than just the first page). Still, it’s a great start and far more than I thought I’d be able to get done in one (admittedly 10 hour) day.

I really can’t thank the organisers and sponsors of RailsGirlsPerth enough. It was an amazing and inspirational event. I met a number of really interesting people who I’m hoping to stay in touch with and learned an enormous amount. It’s given me a whole lot more confidence about playing with APIs and coding in general and it provided a very welcome distraction in what was a really hard week.

If you’re interested in trying something like this, keep an eye on the RailsGirls website and Twitter feed to find out when more events are happening (they are worldwide). You can also get a taste of Ruby at the TryRuby website. I’d highly recommend giving Ruby on Rails a try if you’re interested in playing with APIs or increasing your tech knowledge in general.

The Rails Girls Perth crew and participants (via @GentlemanTech)