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Community Building is What it’s All About

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I was exceptionally honored to be asked to give the opening keynote for code4lib 2013, one of the key meetings for library technologists.  People may have thought that I would speak about, well, coding, or repository development, or online tools or even digital preservation.

Leslie Johnston giving opening keynote at code4lib 2013
Leslie Johnston giving opening keynote at code4lib 2013. Photo by James Staub, used with permission from Flickr

But I didn’t. I talked about community building.

The code4lib community is a remarkable one in many ways. It self-organized when its members realized that what they most needed was a way to communicate, sharing challenges and opportunities and technologies and solutions, and to work together to achieve great things.  Which they have.

It’s also remarkable in that it is exceptionally social, and friendly and caring. I could not have been prouder when the community identified a need for an inclusive code4lib anti-harassment policy and code of conduct for its various modes of interaction (email, IRC Chat, and in-person conferences). Which they created and released in the most transparent way possible, on GitHub.

Getting back to my keynote, I had a few key points that I made:

  • Building software requires a community of people who care, whether they are stakeholders, developers, or users.
  • Releasing software requires a similar community of people who care.
  • Sustaining software requires a community of people who really care … enough to contribute time to identifying requirements, writing code, testing, documenting, and evangelizing.
  • Successful software requires a community of users who actively participate in and interact with the community of software creators.

To build a successful community, there are some requirements:

  • Communication.
  • Inclusiveness.
  • Consideration.
  • Even more communication.
  • A sense of ownership.  (I’ve seen software projects and communities fail because they’re shared with the world but no one really takes ownership in its success.)

The signs of a successful community are:

  • Participation.
  • Enthusiasm.
  • A sense of pride. (I’m part of that! I made that happen! That succeeded in part because of me!)
  • Adoption. (Not just of software, but of the mores and activities of the community.)
  • Evangelism. (Check this out! Look at what has been accomplished–don’t you want to use this? And participate?)

The successes of the code4lib community remind me of the work that we’re just really starting with the National Digital Stewardship Alliance. The Library of Congress, as part of our commitment to digital preservation leadership, created the NDSA as a community platform. We bring museums, libraries, archives and other institutions together to collaborate on ideas and products that benefit the nation. Our aim is to work directly with members and get them involved in collective activities with potential for broad benefit. The code4lib community is a model for NDSA to shoot for in terms of organizing, identifying needs and getting work done. Together.

Because the real point that I wanted to make in my keynote, and emphasized near the end of my time at the podium was this:

None of us should.  Ever.  Work.  Alone.  Anymore.



  1. Thanks for this call to action, Leslie. I think it’s time for libraries, archives, and museums to engage the people *outside* institutions who are already passionate about vintage software like games (and on the whole doing a better job keeping it alive than those inside).

    What can institutions offer them?

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