Strengthening the Library Carpentry community

Posted by s.aragon on 26 July 2019 - 9:29am
Puffins flying
Photo by Ray Hennessy.

By Phil Reed, Nilani Ganeshwaran, Jez Cope, Tim Dennis, Chris Erdmann, Silvia Di Giorgio, Tracy Teal
The demand for Library Carpentry (LC) is increasing in many parts of the world. Organising, developing and delivering Library Carpentry workshops presents many challenges, some of which are more common in LC than in the other Carpentries programmes. On 26 June 2019 Phil Reed and Nilani Ganeshwaran led a CarpentryConnect Manchester workshop where we discussed ways to strengthen the LC community.

What are some of the challenges that are specific to the library community?

The challenges include the following:

  • Lessons depend on learners using the command line (particularly the Git lesson) which is not helpful when library systems do not permit this kind of access.

  • It is difficult for library staff to find the time/get approval to take one or two days off for workshops. 

  • The roles of learners can differ widely, including research librarians, metadata specialists, special collections curators, systems engineers, data professionals, digital humanists and social scientists.

  • Library staff work in an institution’s regional language more so than researchers, so learners are less likely to be comfortable with training materials written in English.

We discussed ways to address some of these challenges, including looking at the current audiences, lessons, library roles and scheduling of workshops. 

In what ways are people and communities using Library Carpentry?

There has been a lot of interest in Library Carpentry from certain research disciplines, particularly digital humanities (DH), perhaps because they have a stronger affinity with libraries than with the programmers and data scientists who work with Software and Data Carpentry. However, these groups have different priorities and needs, tending to get more value out of the Shell and Python lessons than librarians do. There is demand for more content in areas such as text and data mining (TDM) from the DH community.

What is the state of the current lessons? What work might be needed? What new lessons might be useful?

There are four lessons in the Library Carpentry core curriculum (Introduction to Data, Unix Shell, OpenRefine and Git) and several supplementary ones. To fulfill the different needs of libraries, more lessons are required. So far there are many lessons, still in the early stages of development, such as Wikidata, FAIR Data & Software and potentially XML. These lessons might be piloted and used in the lesson developers’ institutions first, then at different institutions after, perhaps in different ways. 

What difference in requirements and expectations are there at libraries with a dedicated software development team?

Some libraries have an embedded software development team. At such institutions, there is less interest from the librarians and less support from the management for Library Carpentry workshops. This is because anything related to automation, scripting, software development and technical support is handled by a library’s software development team. Still, learning some basic skills like OpenRefine and Tidy Data can improve the day-to-day job of the librarians, enabling them to work more effectively and efficiently. Skills covered by the LC curriculum can minimise the librarians’ dependency on the software development team to complete their tasks, allowing the software development team to focus and deliver bigger projects/priorities. 

What are the differences in requirements between the different library roles? Can we match workshop 'menus' to these roles?

We recognise the diversity of roles within the library community, each requiring different skills and perspectives; it therefore would be useful to further articulate these roles and develop relevant sets of lessons. A ‘menu’ of sets of lessons would allow an instructor to select the set that best matches the needs of the group they’re teaching. Much like Data Carpentry has the workshop websites, there could be a page or pages that describes the goals of the different sets of lessons and what people would learn in those workshops. This would help new Library Carpentry instructors know what to teach and help workshop participants know what to expect. 

How can we offer flexibility for different schedules?

We recognise that Library Carpentry workshop formats will need to be more flexible as far as the standard two-day bootcamp Carpentries style format. We suggest LC embrace this flexibility so that librarians, who are often ‘on the clock’ when a workshop is offered, can fully participate. We believe that having multiple workshop formats (one-day, two-day, four mornings or multi-week events) responds to the challenges faced by people working in library- and information-related roles. Additionally, each of these workshops might be tailored towards different audiences. For instance, LC can offer a one-day workshop structured as a general introduction to LC for a broader set of librarian roles. The longer format workshops can be constructed to address specific librarian roles and needs; for example, a two-day data-focused workshop for data-facing librarians. Furthermore, having these distinct formats will help instructors to understand the learning goals for the differently timed workshop formats. 

What should we do next?

In conclusion, we suggested a few actions for the community to consider: