AALL Hackathon

by Jennifer Gonzalez
For the 2014 AALL Annual Conference, I was fortunate to attend the first-ever AALL Hackathon. A Hackathon is an event where technology-focused people such as developers and designers meet to collaborate on new projects. For the AALL event, these technologists worked with subject specialists (law librarians) who have specific, in-depth knowledge in an area that is under-represented on the Internet.

At the beginning of the day, a representative from sunlight.org and the Census Bureau spoke about the importance of these types of projects and how much good they can do. Bringing together people who have the ideas (law librarians) and the people who can make it happen
(technologists) is a collaboration that can result in the creation of projects to solve problems.

Once the motivation was in place, groups were formed based on people’s interests. Some people came into the project knowing exactly what they wanted to pursue and most groups were formed around those ideas. Projects had to be identified quickly so that work could begin
immediately. Once the work began, it continued throughout the day in a very informal setting. Unfortunately, there was a shortage of technologists, so some groups of specialists adapted and made plans for what they would do once they had the resources to pursue a project. In upcoming years, this type of event might attract more people, especially if the event is held in a larger city.

At the end of the day, three judges evaluated presentations by each group and made comments before giving out the placements and grand prize. Projects addressed state materials and decisions in special education advocacy, consolidating and organizing state administrative
codes, working with the AALL inventory, improving a particular state’s search functions by creating a proxy search, and several more. The judges identified themes that were common across all of the projects. These themes included crowd-sourcing, the need for participants from all states for collaboration, accessibility, archiving, increasing functionality, open source (free, public access), the desire to inspire other projects, and adding value to legal information.

It was a fantastic experience and one I hope will become a staple in the AALL Annual Conference.

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