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.


Pedro's picture
Pedro on January 9, 2013 - 00:51 Permalink

Happy to read about the new incumbency ;) I’m sure you’ll hack and create a lot of value at such an unexpected place! Plus you’ll EB surrounded by type which I suspect it’s also interesting hehe so congratulations, and a big hug and best wishes for 2013 ;)

Joshua Biggley's picture
Joshua Biggley on January 9, 2013 - 01:06 Permalink

Love the idea of libraries engaging in brilliantly subversive learning! I’ll be watching to see how you are going to engage to student body and the greater community by extension. I couldn’t think of a better “Hacker in Residence” — congratulations

Steven Garrity's picture
Steven Garrity on January 9, 2013 - 01:49 Permalink

You’ll need a good mohawk for all of that ‘hacking’

Mark Leggott's picture
Mark Leggott on January 9, 2013 - 02:25 Permalink

It’s great to have Peter collaborating with the team at UPEI as Hacker in Residence. Peter has worked with us before, but this will be a lot different, I suspect. We are lucky to have such a creative person (in digital and analog realms) on our campus!

BTW — there may be espresso at our firstCoffee House in the Pit, January 18th 6:30-9:30, so you may want to hack your way over.

alexander's picture
alexander on January 9, 2013 - 02:56 Permalink

Wow, very cool news. I miss working with those folks, whenever I took extra time to ask the librarians and other staff about software they were having trouble with it always resulted in some small change I could make to improve people’s experience.

Hope to read more soon.

art's picture
art on January 9, 2013 - 15:04 Permalink

This is awesome, Peter, UPEI once again leads the way in innovation!

Robert Paterson's picture
Robert Paterson on January 9, 2013 - 22:55 Permalink

This is wonderful the ideal fit. Thinking that every organization needs a Hacker

Jonas Bengtsson's picture
Jonas Bengtsson on January 10, 2013 - 00:09 Permalink

This is awesome! Keep on hacking!

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on January 11, 2013 - 21:45 Permalink

For those of you who want to following along, http://hack.ruk.ca/ is the temporary space for the Hacker in Residence project while domains get assigned at UPEI.

Neil Strickland's picture
Neil Strickland on January 11, 2013 - 23:17 Permalink

What a cool idea. I’ve added your temporary site to my Safari Bookmarks bar.