Yesterday morning we (Bill Erickson, Sally Murphy aka "Murph", and I ran an Evergreen workshop (rough agenda, presentation, and links to associated resources from that page) for the code4lib 2008 preconference session. My personal goals were:
- Walk people through a simple Evergreen install
- Get a small set of bib records and holdings imported
- Attract some more developers to the project by demonstrating how seductively simple it is to add a new service to Evergreen at the OpenSRF layer and then expose it in the catalogue or staff client
- Show off some of the great features of Evergreen that haven't had nearly enough exposure (reports, "fresh meat" feeds, exporter interface)
Problem #1: I started organizing the pre-conference too late. To save time on the install section, I asked attendees to prepare by setting up a VMWare image or bootable Debian or Ubuntu partition and get a bunch of the prerequisite packages installed ahead of time. But by the time I sent my request out, the attendees only had a few days to prepare - and many of them probably hadn't worked with VMWare before, so they suddenly had another learning barrier to overcome. I wasn't too surprised when only about 25% of the room had been able to "do their homework".
Problem #2: I lost at least six hours of preparation time when, due to my own stupidity, I left my passport in a hotel in Atlanta and ended up having to drive across the border from Vancouver to Portland, Oregon. Six hours, man... that's almost a full day thrown away, which is critical when you've left things too late (see problem1). Continuing on the negative side, all I could listen to during the drive was completely formulaic rock stations and political rhetoric worthy of 10-year-olds as I drove through Washington. If radio is a dying medium, I have a very good idea why...
Problem #3: We ran into bizarre projector problems that, for some reason, prevented us from being able to see our laptop screens at the same time as the projected screen. This laptop worked fine with the projector at the OLA Superconference just a few weeks ago, and Bill was afflicted by the same problem - so it really put a crimp in my ability to switch from the presentation to the live install image. My neck was wrecked from constantly twisting around to peer up at the screen while trying to do some minor mousing around.
Problem #4: I severely underestimated how long the install process would take when trying to support a whole group of people at once; you're guaranteed to have a question on almost every step. When we were preparing for the workshop, we had this idea that we would take a hard line and spend no more than one or two minutes on each step - which certainly would have saved a lot of time. But when you've made a connection with the audience, and people have made it through the first dozen steps, it suddenly becomes a lot, lot harder to simply abandon them with the promise that you'll help them later. So we ended up spending something like 2 hours on the install (including a break) rather than the 45 minutes we had been aiming for.
Problem #5: We were overly optimistic about how much we could get done in 2.5 hours. Even without the severe compounding of our time crunch by problem4, in retrospect it's clear we would still have been rushing through all of the other pieces. I think we knew that anyways, but we were just so excited about showing off Evergreen that we wanted to show off as much as possible.
It's not really all that bleak though. There were successes, too.
Success #1: We have at least one person who successfully made it through the install phase and who successfully imported the bib records and holdings, and several others who feel they are very close to finishing. I'm hoping that we can spend a few minutes over the course of the conference to help them reach that finish line.
Success #2: We have a real example of how to import holdings into Evergreen now. This is something that people have been asking for on the list, and I'm really happy to have been able to package up what Mike Rylander provided with a set of sample records and a sample "parse holdings" script that hopefully others will be able to adopt to their own needs.
Success #3: I had feedback from a number of people who, even though they weren't trying to go through the install, still felt it was worthwhile getting an explanation of all the pieces that OpenSRF and Evergreen depend on and how they fit together. I think it was clear that the complexity involved in installing Evergreen isn't so much OpenSRF or Evergreen themselves as it is a few finicky details involving networking - largely ejabberd and Net::Domain's insistence on specific and sometimes conflicting definitions of hostnames.
Success #5: We have laid the groundwork for an Evergreen workshop now, and having gone through the experience once we'll be able to refine the concept for future events. One idea that we've already kicked around is to split it into several tracks so that attendees can self-select what they're interested in and so that we can give enough time to each section. Say, two (or three) hours for an installfest; two hours for "exploring the dark corners of Evergreen"; and two hours on developing and extending Evergreen (OpenSRF, catalogue, staff client). Or we could have spent the entire pre-conference day on Evergreen.
I think it might have been really cool if we had worked with LibraryFind and Zotero to set up an ongoing theme throughout the three pre-conference sessions. We could have collaborated on pre-requisites, so that the LibraryFind install could go on top of the same image as the Evergreen install, and then the newly installed Evergreen image could have been added as a LibraryFind source during the LibraryFind administration section. Then, during the Zotero session, Evergreen and LibraryFind could have been added as new sources for capturing citation information (by making Evergreen and LibraryFind generate COInS objects that Zotero understands or giving Zotero the ability to understand the various formats that Evergreen offers via unAPI).
Of course, it also would have required a heck of a lot of pre-conference planning. A suggestion I would make for next year's pre-conference organizers would be to communicate as much as possible ahead of time to set expectations and help your attendees determine what your agenda should be. We could have just thrown out the entire Evergreen install section, had people get comfortable with a pre-installed VMWare ahead of time, and focused most of the session on developing and exposing OpenSRF services, for example, if that's what our attendees wanted.