Automation Alley’s #hackDPL Event Yields New Library App

When the tech and business association Automation Alley opened an office in Detroit last fall, it wanted to find a way to give back to the community.

Officials with the Detroit Public Library (DPL) had said to Automation Alley’s director of member relations, Cynthia Hutchison, that they were concerned that the library was behind other organizations because it didn’t offer its members a mobile app. Hutchison hit upon the idea of a 24-hour hackathon, which eventually evolved into the #hackDPL event held July 11 at Automation Alley’s office at Grand Circus. At stake was a first-place award of $5,000 and other prizes.

The winning app was created by David Kircos, a Grosse Pointe, MI native and Michigan State student, and Hunter Rosenblume, a Georgia Tech student. Both are interning at Detroit Venture Partners for the summer.

Rosenblume says before he and Kircos started building the app, they talked to DPL librarians and asked them what problems they were having. The librarians said collecting fines was an issue, so Kircos and Rosenblume built a feature into the app that allows library patrons to pay from their mobile phones. The money is then deposited directly into the DPL’s bank account through Venmo, a payment service similar to PayPal.

The app will also translate voicemail messages left for librarians into text messages, so the requests can be dealt with faster. The app will also provide library users with alerts about DPL programs and events. Kircos and Rosenblume are also considering adding a feature to the app that will allow users to place library books on hold.

During their internship with DVP, Rosenblume says, the pair “learned a lot about building products for people instead of a cool app that doesn’t really do much. It’s important for it to be functional for everybody.”

The judges for #hackDPL were Detroit Labs’ Will McDowell; Victor Ibegbu, acting assistant director for information systems for DPL; Beth Niblock, the city of Detroit’s chief information officer; and Mark Ostach, CEO of Digerati.

Second-place honors and $300 in gift cards from Gift Detroit went to a team from Detroit Labs that consisted of Nick Virag, Tobi Adebisi, and Andrew Giang. Third place and Made in Detroit gear went to Evol Johnson, an app developer with his own company called NgeosOne.

Hutchison says the app created by Kircos and Rosenblume will be released to the public soon, after it undergoes a few final tweaks.

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