Adventures at the Spring 2017 Library Hackathon

This year I participated in an event called HackCulture: A Hackathon for the Humanities, which was organized by the University Library. This interdisciplinary hackathon brought together participants and judges from a variety of fields.

This event is different than your average campus hackathon. For one, it’s about expanding humanities knowledge. In this event, teams of undergraduate and graduate students — typically affiliated with the iSchool in some way — spend a few weeks working on data-driven projects related to humanities research topics. This year, in celebration of the sesquicentennial of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, we looked at data about a variety of facets of university life provided by the University Archives.

This was a good experience. We got firsthand experience working with data; though my teammates and I struggled with OpenRefine and so we ended up coding data by hand. I now way too much about the majors that are available at UIUC and how many majors have only come into existence in the last thirty years. It is always cool to see how much has changed and how much has stayed the same.

The other big challenge we had was not everyone on the team had experience with design, and trying to convince folks not to fall into certain traps was tricky.

For an idea of how our group functioned, I outlined how we were feeling during the various checkpoints across the process.


We had grand plans and great dreams and all kinds of data to work with. How young and naive we were.

Midpoint Check:

Laura was working on the Python script and sent a well-timed email about what was and wasn’t possible to get done in the time we were given. I find public speaking challenging so that was not my favorite workshop. I would say it went alright.


We prevailed and presented something that worked in public. Laura wrote a great Python script and cleaned up a lot of the data. You can even find it here. One day in the near future it will be in IDEALS as well where you can already check out projects from our fellow humanities hackers.

Key takeaways:

  • Choose your teammates wisely; try to pick a team of folks you’ve worked with in advance. Working with a mix of new and not-so-new people in a short time frame is hard.
  • Talk to your potential client base! This was definitely something we should have done more of.
  • Go to workshops and ask for help. I wish we had asked for more help.
  • Practicing your presentation in advance as well as usability testing is key. Yes, using the actual Usability Lab at Scholarly Commons is ideal but at the very least take time to make sure the instructions for using what you created are accurate. It’s amazing what steps you will leave off when you have used an app more than twice. Similarly make sure that you can run your program and another program at the same time because if you can’t chances are it means you might crash someone’s browser when they use it.

Overall, if you get a chance to participate in a library hackathon, go for it, it’s a great way to do a cool project and get more experience working with data!

Undergraduate Research Opportunity: McNair Scholars Priority Deadline 9/30!

If you are an undergraduate planning on pursuing a doctorate degree, looking for more ways to get involved in research on campus, and a member of a group underrepresented in graduate education, the TRIO McNair Scholars Program is looking for students like you!
The priority deadline is September 30 at 5 pm.
For more information about the program and the application process please check out

The Image of Research – UR Edition

Submissions for The Image of Research Competition – Undergraduate Edition are now being accepted! The Image of Research Competition – Undergraduate Edition, is a multidisciplinary competition celebrating the diversity and breadth of undergraduate student research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Who Can Submit?: The competition is open to all undergraduate students. Entries must be submitted by students who are enrolled in the Spring 2015 term and in good academic standing. Students may submit individually, or as a collaborative group. Each person (or research group) may only submit one entry, each submission should include a faculty sponsor, and students are responsible for submitting their own work.

Requirements and Deadlines for Submission:
– The image submitted should represent your research either concretely or abstractly. You will also be submitting a narrative that articulates the connection between the image and your research.

The submission will be judged on:

  • Connection between image, text, and research
  • Originality
  • Visual Impact

Other Requirements:

  • A title of less than 250 characters
  • A 100-200 word description
  • Images should be the best quality images you can find. We highly recommend a maximum file size of 100MB and a minimum resolution of 300ppi.
  • These images are generally printed at approximately 40 x 28 inches with the abstract included, so be mindful of the size of your image. We recommend that your image measure at least 10 inches on the shortest side.

An important note: Entrants must be principle creator(s) of the image. Third part content can be used, but submitting a third party image unaltered is not permitted. Entrants are responsible for ensuring that any use of images or material that are under copyright by a third party either falls under fair use or that relevant permissions have been sought, that no copyright has been infringed, and that any necessary release forms have been signed.

Submissions will be accepted from February 20 – Sunday, April 5, 2015 12pm CST

– First prize = $300
– Second prize = $200
– And up to two honorable mentions = $50 each
Awards will be presented at the Undergraduate Research Symposium on April 23rd, 2015 at the Illini Union. All images will be professionally printed and displayed at the Undergraduate Research Symposium, and all images will be included in an online exhibit hosted by the University Library.

Questions?: Check out the FAQ section on The Image of Research – UG Edition webpage, drop by the Scholarly Commons (Room 306, Main Library) during open hours, or send us an email at

Submit your entries by using this form: