Princeton Public Library executive director Brett Bonfield is not new to volunteer-driven hacking groups. His experience with Code4lib will come in handy, when he sits on our panel of judges this Sunday. He narrates his experience with civic tech movement to Pragati Verma. Excerpts:
At Code for Princeton, we look at Princeton library as our home. What does the civic tech movement mean to you?
Let me begin by telling you about my personal connection. I’ve been a web developer for some years and actively worked with Code4lib.
I love civic hacking and the Code for movement. Code for Princeton is a really good group with a strong sense of teaching. At the library, we want to provide different types of literacy. So, we value all the classes being taught by Code for Princeton. Your projects empower citizens and serve needs of the community.
What about our Hackathon? Do they add any value?
I think Hackathons are incredibly important and they are really great for people who are interested in engaging with code and data to come together; learn from each other and serve the community.
I also appreciate that you are a very welcoming community and don’t expect participants to come with a certain level of knowledge.
What excites you the most about Code for Princeton?
One of the good things about Code for Princeton is that people here listen. They talk to elected officials, government employees; non-profit agencies; citizens of the area and University students. They don’t just take on a project saying, “This is the best for you”. All the projects that I have seen are meant to solve a need that has been communicated to the project teams. Take the project that makes it easier to apply for affordable housing, for instance. Your team members didn’t start the project saying, ”Here’s what you should do.” Instead, they worked with people who knew the current system, before trying to figure out how to improve it.
Digital technologies have redefined libraries a lot. What are your thoughts on hosting and nurturing local technology organizations?
We provide them with space and technology. For instance, we have study rooms where they can meet, access gigabit internet connection and share screens. We can provide them with server space, books and online resources to help people code. In addition, we help them coordinate and promote events. We have 15,000 people on our email list and thousands of people look at our calendar.
Is there anything we can do to support the library?
You are already doing a great job in supporting us. When we teach people how to code, we can now advise them to join your organization to get hands-on experience and work with peers. At the same time, you offer an opportunity to techies to give back to community.