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How to Host a Hackathon at Your Library

hackathonHackathons have become increasingly popular over the last few years, and they’re no longer conducted just by tech startups and companies. Groups as varied as professional sports organizations, local government and universities have embraced the concept.

These events can be extraordinarily beneficial for local communities. A marathon coding session can produce technology applications for the library as well as build upon STEM education efforts. As both community centers and technology hubs, public libraries are ideal places to host hackathons.

Technopedia defines a hackathon as “a gathering where programmers collaboratively code in an extreme manner over a short period of time. Hackathons are at least a few days – or over a weekend – and generally no longer than a week. While working on a particular project, the idea is for each developer to have the ability and freedom to work on whatever he/she wants.”

Many hosts design their hackathon with a specific purpose or theme. For example, Code for Civic Hacking events aim to develop solutions for government and community challenges like the lack of affordable housing or unemployment. Your hackathon can focus on the needs of the library, with coders developing library-related mobile apps or revamping the website. Other projects include creating new ways to put vast amounts of library data to better use.

One example is the Toronto Public Library, which hosted an Open Data Hackathon to explore new ideas for taking advantage of public library data. The projects included a catalogue speech interface, an interactive query system, and a map to explore library neighborhoods. You can view all of the pitch presentations from the event here.

Hosting a hackathon at your library is a big undertaking, however. In Georgia, after the Chattahoochee Valley Libraries hosted a Hack the Library event, deputy director Gabriel Lundeen shared his experience in a blog post.

If you’d like to host a hackathon, here are a few takeaways that you can use as a framework for designing, promoting and hosting.

 

Create a Project Plan

Not surprisingly, such a large event will take you and your staff months of work. Start the process by putting together a project plan and a timeline. It will help you track all of the logistical and marketing details to ensure nothing is overlooked.

Partner with Your Local Tech Community

Reach out to local technology organizations and begin building relationships. Local techies and coders can help you create a list of challenges for the event, help you promote it, and act as mentors to young and inexperienced participants during the event.

Find a Sponsor

Your costs will include food, prizes and marketing, so it’s a good idea to find a sponsor who can provide financial support. Reach out to area businesses, especially those who recruit and hire technology developers. Their next great hire might attend your hackathon, so they will benefit too.

Pay Close Attention to Logistics

Hosting 60-70 students, amateur techies, government officials and developers is a logistical challenge. You’ll need to arrange plenty of seating and table space, easy access to electrical outlets, WiFi, food, and more. This useful Hackathon Guide covers many of the details you need to run a successful event.

Promote the Hackathon

As you map out your marketing plan, be sure to take advantage of partnerships and sponsor opportunities. Ask your local tech community to promote via their own channels, and seek support from sponsors for media outreach and advertising. In addition, reach out to local schools and after-school tech clubs to get the word out.

Invite the Press

The hackathon is an excellent opportunity for the media to see the library in action, engage with participants, take tons of photos, and incorporate pitch videos into their articles. So don’t forget to reach out to the local press well in advance and offer them complementary access to the event.

 

Remember that this type of event doesn’t end after just 48 hours. Several projects will continue to completion, helping to strengthen your new relationships with members of the tech community. If all goes well, it’s likely you’ll see more local techies using the library, and you will find yourself planning more hackathons.

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