Peta Hopkins, Manager, Digital Library Services, Bond University
The Australia New Zealand Regional Ex Libris Group (ANZREG) sponsored an Alma Cloud Apps Hackathon during March 2021. Our goals were collaboration, learning and solving problems. ANZREG usually holds a Developers’ Day each year, but the pandemic canceled our 2020 plans for that. As a result the ANZREG Committee was keen to host an event early in 2021 for developers, and so we dreamed up a virtual hackathon.
In this post, we’ll share our experiences from planning and running the hackathon and the amazing results the hackathon participants were able to achieve.
Planning began in January with the setting of goals, target dates, and a general outline of the event. We set bi-weekly calls with a core team that included ANZREG Committee members Rachel Salby from La Trobe University and Amelia Rowe from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), former ANZREG Committee member Sue Harmer from the University of New South Wales, several colleagues from Ex Libris, and me. We prepared a detailed project plan and began to work on the communication plan to publicize the event within the ANZREG membership.
We compiled a list of ideas for apps by reviewing the Ex Libris Idea Exchange, brainstorming with the members of the planning committee, and reaching out to the community. After the date for ideas submissions passed, colleagues from Ex Libris provided a feasibility score representing how appropriate it would be to implement as a Cloud App. A short list of 5 ideas that could be assigned to the teams was decided as being achievable and useful.
Two weeks before the hackathon we hosted a webinar on UX Design. Alex Daly from UNSW presented ideas which helped participants think about optimal user experience. We also used the opportunity to review the Cloud App style guide.
As the final date for registration approached, we began actively recruiting participants. It was important for us to have teams that included members with various skills, including developers, designers, subject matter experts, and Alma library management system users. In the end we had enough registrants to create four teams to tackle the app ideas. Before the hackathon started, we shared a list of resources with participants for them to review, including the Cloud Apps Getting Started Guide. These resources are listed on the event’s page on the ANZREG website.
… good to know ExLibris are willing to teach and available throughout.
The hackathon was held over a week, from 17 March to 24 March. We kicked things off with a launch event where we introduced the teams, ideas, schedule, and communication methods. Once the logistics were out of the way, the teams entered breakout rooms where they got to know each other, discussed how they wanted to tackle their assigned idea, and planned for the coming days.
Each weekday during the hackathon we scheduled a “drop-in session” where Ex Libris Cloud Apps experts were available for technical questions and team members reported on progress. We also made use of the IGeLU/ELUNA Slack workspace for asynchronous communication during the entire week. There is a channel specifically for Alma Cloud Apps, and additionally some of the teams created their own private channels as they worked on their apps.
“… good to know ExLibris are willing to teach and available throughout” — Participant Feedback
Teams made great progress using tools such as the Cloud App CLI for development and testing, Github to store the code and track issues, and Slack or Zoom for communication.
“Great experience with the opportunity to work and learn with people from other institutions.” — Participant Feedback
The wrap-up session was open to any Alma libraries worldwide. Each team presented their problem statement, the process they used to build the app, and demonstrated the solution itself. There was a panel of judges who voted the best app, and the participants in the wrap-up session voted in a poll for the people’s choice prize. Members of both winning teams won prizes, sponsored by Ex Libris.
“It was brilliant” — Attendee feedback
Within a few short days, 4 teams made up of participants from various institutions with little (or no) knowledge of the Cloud App framework were able to build apps which answer real community use cases:
- Print Slip Report– provides an alternative to the built-in Alma print slip feature
- Trove Search– search for records in Trove from metadata in Alma screens
- Delete Your Sets– allows users to delete multiple sets
- Citation Checker– validates metadata in a borrowing request
Descriptions of the apps and the winners are available on the ANZREG site, along with a recording of the wrap-up session. The apps resulting from the hackathon are available on the Ex Libris App Center, and the code projects are all on Github.
“Really impressed by the apps created and the presentations” — Attendee feedback
“… it involved a learning process, built networking, and personal achievements satisfaction” — Participant Feedback.
We hope that our work will inspire other regional groups to sponsor their own Hackathons. Our experience shows that with a bit of effort it’s possible to launch a successful event resulting in apps that solve real problems and benefit the entire community. We have materials such as communication and planners that we’re happy to share. Good luck!
Rachel Salby from Latrobe University and Josh Weisman from Ex Libris contributed to this post.
April 22, 2021