How to organise a library hackathon

What role can libraries play in hosting hackfests to support student research and collaboration? Canada's York University shares the secrets of success.

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'Hackathons' or 'hackfests' bring together programmers, developers and other interested parties to build specific projects such as apps, often working long into the night in a pizza-fuelled marathon session in order to complete the brief in the time available. The Steacie Science and Engineering Library at Toronto’s York University hosted its second annual Steacie Library Dungeon Hackfest earlier this year.

The process was described by Sarah Shujah, York’s Science Librarian, speaking at last month’s SLA Conference in Vancouver. Her presentation describes how the library worked together with the Computer Science department to embed the hackfest into a first year computer science course, as an optional assignment through which students could earn a mark which contributed to their final grade.

According to Sarah Shujah, the foundational principals of libraries mean that library-based hackathons can offer unique benefits, enabling “critical thinking, critical making, and critical information literacy”. Importantly, the Steacie Hackfest was non-competitive. This “fosters collaboration, establishes a safe, welcoming and comfortable environment for all participants without the pressure of having to finish a product or be compared to other groups.”


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