20 February 2015
What would Library Carpentry look like?
Yesterday I posed a question on Twitter:
I asked the question because I attended a Software Carpentry bootcamp in 2013. Because I loved that bootcamp. Because I still value what I learnt over those two days. And because I realised - not immediately but sometime thereafter - that although I was made very welcome that my presence diluted the core purpose of Software Carpentry: to teach computational competence to scientists and that the more non-scientists entered the room, much as they were welcome, the more that purpose was diluted (I want to make it very clear that this is not a criticism of Software Carpentry. They do wonderful work. For more on Software Carpentry see Greg Wilson's excellent 'Software Carpentry: Lessons Learned').
Anyway, the fact that I attended a Software Carpentry bootcamp - and that many non-scientists have done the same - suggests there is an audience for the skills Software Carpentry teaches beyond scientific domains (that is, science in an Anglophonic sense).
To return to my question on Twitter, a bunch of generous library(ish) folks (Owen Stephens, Steph Taylor, Torsten Reimer, Cam Mcdonell, Mike Mertens) responded with thoughts, suggestions, and links: in the latter regard to Software Carpentry bootcamps aimed to librarians, to Data Science Training For Librarians, and to Mashed Library. My ensuing conversation with Owen Stephens best captures what I think Library Carpentry could be: much like Software Carpentry but with subtle emphases on what matters to library and information science folks (and with an eye perhaps on what matters to the research communities many serve), with core topics largely unchanged (so Unix command line, Python, Git, SQL, regular expressions - though Mcdonell, 2014 reports low demand for Git), and with the science specific material - R, MATLAB - replaced with library specific material such as 'a lesson based on processing a circulation card' (Mcdonell, 2014). This is not unlike how the British Library Digital Research team tailor topics covered in our internal Digital Scholarship Training Programme to the needs of the staff here at the British Library (for more on the programme, see British Library Digital Scholarship Training Programme: a round-up of resources you can use).
But - and it is a big but - those are just my thoughts on the matter. For something like Library Carpentry to be a thing it would need a community to define it, to grow it, and to love it. And for many reasons I feel poorly placed to 'coordinate' this defining, growing, loving, not least because I'm a bit of an imposter: a historian working in a library (though as Andromena Yelton remarked in her recent - and wonderful - Code4Lib Conference keynote, people working in libraries all have lives before they started working in libraries) whose technical skills are not deeply rooted or adaptive enough to deliver Software Carpentry style training.
What I do have, however, are some Software Sustainability Institute Fellowship funds earmarked for the task of exploring what Library Carpentry might look like. Hence my question and this post. I could use these funds to pay for my attendance at a series of events, to organise some training for myself, to sate my urge to travel. But I'm not going to. Instead I'm asking you to suggest how I might make best use of those funds. Should I run an event where a large community of librarians of various skill levels can contribute to building a blueprint for Library Carpentry? Should I pay transport costs to get a select group of awesome and well connected folks together to build a consortium and bid for philanthropic funds? Should I just use the money to just pay for trainers to train library folks with skills a la Software Carpentry? Or should I do something totally different?
Over to you.
Curator, Digital Research
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