Hackers in the Library!

Sarah Shujah, Science Libraries, York University
Gabby Resch, Ph.D Student, Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, iSchool, Faculty of Information

“Hosting a hackathon (or hackfest) in the library provides opportunities for discussing and developing new approaches to research, engaging students (and others) to explore critical information literacy issues, fostering iterative and collaborative opening practices, and encouraging the use of open source/open access techniques.” –Research Position

Libraries can build hackfests…we’ve always used new technologies, engaged people with it, and build community.

Critical Making: “the process of making is as important as the results” — Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Law, The information society, 27(4)

Hackers — stereotype: hoodies, headphones, hunched over, poking holes in databases, doing nefarious things. Are they bored lockpickers? Tinkers, lifehackers, parent hackers, can openers, and then share what they do. Lifehacker

Quality of hacker culture is the collaborative aspect.


  • Why are hackfests and hackathons relevant to libraries?
  • Why should libraries participate in (or develop) hackathons when they are already common in so-called “maker culture”
  • What specific internal tools can the library leverage to create unique hackathons?

Role of libraries

  • There is an increased need to discuss the political role of technology and the technological mediation of our everyday lives — as well as resultant anxiety produced by it — something libraries well-suited to address. To facilitate, to address.


  • Critical thinking via critical making
  • knowledge exchange
  • innovation and research
  • experiential education
  • open access

Tips, Ideas, and Suggestions

  1. Establish dedicated space — but not necessarily a “maker space” — facilitate return visits and mentorship from within the library community [a floor, a corner, middle of floor]
  2. Build relationships with faculty and staff — not just engineering, science, computing, art; encourage mentors to be available long-term, not just during the hackathon
  3. Build upon the history of libraries and the library’s connection to broad social and culture issues/needs — encourage engaged citizenship; collaborative and social knowledge sharing — open source ideas. Post information and code on github or hackfest website.
  4. Create an agenda that fosters critical literacies — not just digital literacy — projects aims and themes should focus on digital AND material engagement. Think about impact website or app might have on community. Think about theme of event. Using collections in the library. Book display prior to Hackfest of relevant books. Let participants know that books are available to help people learn to code, also why information should be shared online. Cory Doctorow. Using your collections is important

How to Put all Into Practice

Steacie Library Dungeon Hackfest 2014 [promo video]

  • critical making agenda — process not as much end-product focus
  • collaborative focus (non-competitive)
  • Mentorship from the university community on site and on-going
  • Incorporation of collections
  • More information
  • Theme: Culture and Technology in a Mobile World — create entrepreneurial app about anything
  • 2-day event
  • Breakout sessions: librarians helped participants research existing apps — also, how does your app impact society.
  • Ex., a couple of groups wanted to help other students know where group study areas were available based on wireless connections (privacy/surveillance issues)
  • Ex., social media: help peers know what their friends were doing (privacy as well) — adding, opt-out option.

High school classrooms, museum participatory workshops, coding for kids, getting participants to reimagine outrageous ways to do things. Flappy birds IRL (gummy worm in one hand, and high-fiving each other to close the circuit). MaKey-MaKey kits,

Designed a way for Mesopotamia exhibit visitors to design a Mesopotamian structure in 15 minutes on an iPad and then 3D print and build a city over 4 weeks. People began creating other objects not necessarily applicable/historically accurate. Embodied interaction. And attitudes that challenge institutional authority. Why should we challenge the authority of these books or objects?

Hacking the Body: DIY Prosthetics

  • Use of novel technologies and physical computing — wearables; microcontrollers
  • Multiple sites simultaneously: video-linked
  • Art meets science vs STEM
  • FOcus on process, not product
  • Like JoCo Library’s 3D printed robohand
  • Using body as spectacle, social norms

Closing thoughts

  • Hackathons are about more than just kills development, digital literacy, or citizen science
  • Foster critical thinking and engagement with topical sissues
  • Visit our website for media, tips, and ideas
  • It’s about public engagement in science

Audience Questions

  • Discomfort with maker movement: it’s great to get kids to blink lights, but there has to be more than just blinking the light and encouraging the four pillars of STEM education. Maker movement hasn’t been good of emphasizing critical side of information literacy. Where’s the plastic coming from? What happens when we buy new products? What’s the impact of putting a 3D printer in a school?
  • What’s maker culture exactly? Is it white-male, mid20s-30s. Is it intergenerationl? Is it class based?