Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Exciting Week at DrupalCon DC 2009

DrupalCon DC
March 4-7, 2009 Washington Convention Center

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This was one of those “intense learning environment” conferences. I went to DrupalCon to learn about the software from the ground floor, and ended up learning a great deal of unexpected information.

There were 1400 attendees (up from 40 eight years ago), and over 100 workshops and sessions. My Baltimore County Public Library colleague, Jason, and I attended from the same office but with different web projects. While his involves the complexities of a large library’s website, I’m completely satisfied to be working with the Maryland AskUsNow’s Statewide Project Coordinator, Julie Strange, to move our current “Partners Page” site from its current foundation (shaky as it sometimes seems) into Drupal. Our site has twelve main areas, plus the home page. Julie’s previous work to incorporate widgets and to get all updated information uploaded via shortcuts set a tone for this next step.

I looked at DrupalCon as an immersion prior to the event (here is a link to the list of sessions), and while it was like this it was also a lot like a graduate school course condensed into a very small amount of time. The organization of the sessions made it possible for a newbie like me to target “how to start” and “where to go from there,” types of sessions.
I also picked up on three other very important things:

  1. No conference is a conference without a certain amount of networking. This was accomplished at DrupalCon as well, including the Birds of a Feather meeting with other librarians who are working with, or looking to work with, Drupal. This put me in touch with a place called Drupal.Groups online, which has many libraries involved (you’ll have to have a login to view the libraries and interact with them, but you can access the front area). Unfortunately, I was na├»ve to the attraction a meeting like this has for vendors, especially free lance web developers and companies who could provide everything we’d need for a price.Nonetheless, it was a good opportunity to at least meet the 20 or so others who are in various stages of “Drupal and library” web development. Some of the topics included how to work with catalog systems and the beginnings of basic planning to design a library site.

  2. Drupal uses applications and modules as ways to build upon a core. For example, if a site wants a calendar, there is a separate module to download and then incorporate into the desired area of a site. I not only gained more of an understanding of which modules may be usable for our site, but also where these modules are at in their own development stages. There are earlier versions of Drupal – the most current is version 6, and version 7 is in the works. However, many of the modules are still in earlier version form.

  3. Finally, and to me just as essential as learning about the software is to fully fathom the organic, lively quality of what “open source” really means. I was amazed at the overlap of mission between the world of librarians and the Drupal community. On a deeper level, I was moved by the commitment to share quality information. This theme presented itself as a cornerstone for the growth of Drupal, the standard of its software and the future of its community (which is its users and developers). Those who use Drupal often tend to shape it in some way, from involvement as a source of support for others, to testing modules and apps, to making new parts of Drupal. Somehow, it works well in this way. I know nothing else like this. Two of DrupalCon’s keynote speakers, the founder Dries Buytaert and Twittering Chris Messina, addressed this aspect of Drupal very well, as well as to bring in some of the future aspects of social net - working. (I divided “net” with “working” to give the indication that I am talking about something more than FaceBook/MySpace. More like, “working with each other on the net” in a fun but productive way.) If you have any interest in social networking, please watch the hour-long recording of “Chris Messina’s address, “Our Identity Online.”

I’m not a programmer. In my past, I’ve looked at open source software and dabbled a little in this and that, but found the available software and easy-to-install applications (like widgets) just enough to work well enough for my uses. I have created a few simple websites and worked on design aspects of others. I went into the conference with some trepidation, somewhat like Dorothy entering the Land of Oz, and came out with an excitement to get started! With our community and connections, with some careful project planning, and with plenty of flexibility and testing, I believe Julie and I will find Drupal to be a frontier that offers us just what we need to create a site that offers information, multimedia options, and with ease of design appeal that will encourage frequent use by all Maryland AskUsNow! providers.

Let me know if you would like access to the detailed notes of the daily sessions I attended, provided through Google Docs online. I’ll be happy to link you there. You can also browse through the recordings available through the Internet Archives, “DrupalCon 2009” online at:

Here is a shortened (easier) link, which takes you to the same place:

For more about Dries Buytaert, founder of Drupal:

(posted by Cathay Crosby, Operations Assistant, Maryland AskUsNow!)