2018 in Review

1/3/2019

I saw a bunch of other folks write some year-in-review posts, and I thought that I might also join in on the fun because 2018 has been such an interesting year for me.

2018 marked my 4th year as the Lead Web Developer for the Penn State University Libraries’ Discovery and Web Services team in the Department of Information Technology. Professionally I enjoyed a fantastic mix of getting to build more interesting things with tech I know well and things that I don’t know well at all.

Over the summer I worked on a Drupal module for a “Bento” discovery interface, especially utilizing our Summon service. The module is organized in object-oriented PHP and makes use of asynchronous cURL calls on various APIs to put together a set of relevant results of books, articles, experts, scholarly databases and other items. The new feature became the main point-of-entry for all patrons using the PSU Libraries’ website to discover/find items. It receives around 8,000 page views daily and has been performing well in terms of page speed and usability so far. I file this project under the "tech I know well" in terms of Drupal and PHP, but it is one of the first projects I've had the privilege of working on that impacts discovery and research, and ultimately speeds up learning (that's the aim anyway!).

The other main project I am lucky to be a part of is the implementation of the open source Ruby on Rails Engine Blacklight as a new web interface for browsing the PSU Libraries’ 7 million-item catalog. This project has been all about learning new things, which has been invigorating. I have never, seriously, used Ruby or Ruby on Rails. I have never been in a project that is so focused on tests, though I would shy away from saying it’s completely “test-driven.” Also new for me on this project: working with webpack, working with Docker, working with GitHub’s CI ecosystem (Travis and Coveralls) and getting in deeper with Solr. But, the most important “new thing” in this project for me is deeper working with library-specific systems, especially marc metadata.

I worked on some other smaller-scale things too. I added some new library-staff-facing features for editing hours of operation early in 2018 (in a custom Drupal 7 module for managing hours). I worked with a team of librarians to implement a subject-based taxonomy for the libraries’ site. Part of this entails tagging “experts” (i.e., library staff that can help on a given subject) and dedicating a large portion of the homepage to those experts.

And, of course, I didn’t work on any of this stuff in a vacuum or alone. Far from it. I am thankful for the great people I work with every day and I am thankful for the helpful community that is library tech (see code4lib). I feel odd naming anyone specifically, like I don’t really have the right, but so many folks in libtech are super helpful and giving of their time and this loosely-organized, informal, helpful community is what allows all libraries to accomplish more.

I was also lucky enough to attend a few conferences in 2018. The Blacklight Summit at Princeton and in Urbana, Ill., the Big Ten Academic Alliance Annual Conference (with a focus on discovery and delivery) both were especially great. 2018 for me has provided me with greater opportunity to learn and grow in the realm of library discovery and scholarly communications understanding, which I hope to continue in 2019.

I am very much both looking forward to another interesting year in library-land, happy new year all!

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