Hacker in Residence

I began a new appointment today, as Hacker in Residence at Robertson Library, University of Prince Edward Island. Under the aegis of the university’s “visiting scholar” program, I’ll be a part-time member of the library community for the next year, with a mandate:

To bring the spirit and application of the ‘hacker ethic’ to the Robertson Library where the hacker ethic is defined as “access, freedom of information, and improvement to quality of life.”

That’s intentionally open-ended: while I have a grasp of the terrain I’d like to wander, what I’ll be doing specifically is to be seen. In general, I’ll be seeking to take the infrastructure, facilities, systems and special projects of the library apart and shed light on them by remixing, mashing-up, communicating and enlivening. I will be a “user in residence,” “patron in residence,” and “developer in residence” by times (and no, I will have nothing to do with “testing the library’s security systems,” which reflects a different (mis)use of the term “hacker”).

The appointment has its roots in conversations that University Librarian Mark Leggott and I started having when he was first appointed 6 years ago: I’ve long sought a way of becoming more deeply engaged with the work the library is doing, and it took 6 years for us to hack together a model that worked. In innumerable ways, it’s a dream position for me.

My role isn’t operational – which is good, because I’m not getting paid! – and has no specific research goals. If that sounds an awful lot like “hanging out around the library and doing stuff I find interesting,” that’s good, because that’s what I’m planning on doing. Beyond scratching my personal interests and  and curiousities, I’m a strong believer that a hacker presence inside any organization can be a force for good, and this is a good opportunity to put that belief to the test.

Hacker in Residence Office

I’ll be on the University of PEI campus two or three times a week, working out of tiny room 322 of Robertson Library on the second floor beside the stacks, 50 square feet of highly-concentrated hackerspace that, right now, has a desk chair and an Ethernet jack waiting for me. Some time later this week there will be a website attached to me, where various reports of my exploits will begin to flow.

A brief summary of day one’s activities:

  • Sampled the cinnamon-raisin bagels of the in-library café, a facility that, alas, does not serve espresso-based beverages (a coffee drought that afflicts the entire campus, it seems) and met the friendly café staff (man does that place get busy between classes!).
  • Got a tour of the library, and introductions to most of the staff, from the ever-helpful and efficient Pauline MacPherson, library administrator.
  • Met briefly with Peter Lux, a colleague from many projects in the past, to get a general lay of the systems and to talk about getting a virtual server set up for me.
  • Met briefly with Don Moses, another longtime colleague and now Digitization Initiatives & Systems head at the library, about the general lay of his land.
  • Took the measurements of my office (92” x 80” with a 92” x 25” counter/desk, a bookshelf, a single electrical outlet, a single Ethernet port, a wastepaper basket and a bulletin board).
  • Make a request from Special Collections Librarian Simon Lloyd for blueprints of the library building (not currently in the collection, but perhaps available from the facilities branch of the university); figured a good way to start my term was to get a handle on the physical plant at the same time as I’m checking out the digital plant.
  • Got myself hooked up to the wifi (only the barest dribble of a signal in my office, which I’ll have to fix somehow).
  • Tracked down the history of Robertson Library.
  • Bought a 10-pack of bus tickets to get me to and from the library.

Various bits of paperwork and bureaucracy are still in the works: security needs to cut me a key to my office and arrange for 24/7 access via the back door (so I can host raves, etc.), computer services needs to rejig my campus account so I can do things like print and access server resources. But, otherwise, I’m ready to roll.