More skills, less pain with Library Carpentry

By Jeffrey C. Oliver, Ph.D

This is the second post in the bloggERS Making Tech Skills a Strategic Priority series.

Remember that scene in The Matrix where Neo wakes and says “I know kung fu”? Library Carpentry is like that. Almost. Do you need to search lots of files for pieces of text and tire of using Ctrl-F? In the UNIX shell lesson you’ll learn to automate tasks and rapidly extract data from files. Are you managing datasets with not-quite-standardized data fields and formats? In the OpenRefine lesson you’ll easily wrangle data into standard formats for easier processing and de-duplication. There are also Library Carpentry lessons for Python (a popular scripting programming language), Git (a powerful version control system), SQL (a commonly used relational database interface), and many more.

But let me back up a bit.

Library Carpentry is part of the Carpentries, an organization is designed to provide training to scientists, researchers, and information professionals on the computational skills necessary for work in this age of big data.

The goals of Library Carpentry align with this series’ initial call for contributions, providing resources for those in data- or information-related fields to work “more with a shovel than with a tweezers.” Library Carpentry workshops are primarily hands-on experiences with tools to make work more efficient and less prone to mistakes when performing repeated tasks.

One of the greatest parts about a Library Carpentry workshop is that they begin at the beginning. That is, the first lesson is an Introduction to Data, which is a structured discussion and exercise session that breaks down jargon (“What is a version control system”) and sets down some best practices (naming things is hard).

Not only are the lessons designed for those working in library and information professions, but they’re also designed by “in the trenches” folks who are dealing with these data and information challenges daily. As part of the Mozilla Global Sprint, Library Carpentry ran a two-day hackathon in May 2018 where lessons were developed, revised, remixed, and made pretty darn shiny by contributors at ten different sites. For some, the hackathon itself was an opportunity to learn how to use GitHub as a collaboration tool.

Furthermore, Library Carpentry workshops are led by librarians, like the most recent workshop at the University of Arizona, where lessons were taught by our Digital Scholarship Librarian, our Geospatial Specialist, our Liaison Librarian to Anthropology (among other domains), and our Research Data Management Specialist.

Now, a Library Carpentry workshop won’t make you an expert in Python or the UNIX command line in two days. Even Neo had to practice his kung fu a bit. But workshops are designed to be inclusive and accessible, myth-busting, and – I’ll say it – fun. Don’t take my word for it, here’s a sampling of comments from our most recent workshop:

  • Loved the hands-on practice on regular expressions
  • Really great lesson – I liked the challenging exercises, they were fun! It made SQL feel fun instead of scary
  • Feels very powerful to be able to navigate files this way, quickly & in bulk.

So regardless of how you work with data, Library Carpentry has something to offer. If you’d like to host a Library Carpentry workshop, you can use our request a workshop form. You can also connect to Library Carpentry through social media, the web, or good old fashioned e-mail. And since you’re probably working with data already, you have something to offer Library Carpentry. This whole endeavor runs on the multi-faceted contributions of the community, so join us, we have cookies. And APIs. And a web scraping lesson. The terrible puns are just a bonus.

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One thought on “More skills, less pain with Library Carpentry

  1. Tamar Zeffren January 31, 2019 / 1:10 pm

    Thanks so much for writing about this; I wouldn’t have otherwise known of this resource.

    (And terrible puns are *more* than a bonus!)

    Like

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