Teaching Library Carpentry at the New Librarians' Symposium

Post by Carmi Cronje

My colleague Fiona Jones and I recently taught a workshop called Introduction to the Library Carpentry Toolbox at the National Library Australia (NLA) for the ALIA New Librarians’ Symposium (NLS).

The New Librarians’ Symposium is held every two years - aimed at LIS and GLAMR students, managers, mentors, coders, hackers and more. This year’s was themed DIY Library Career, and held in Canberra 23rd-25th June. It was our first time at NLS so we weren’t sure what to expect, but it didn’t take long to get a sense of the positive environment outlined in their Inclusion Statement.

We ran this introduction to Library Carpentry as a three-hour workshop, and had 20 learners packed into NLA’s IT Training Room.

In the first 45 minutes, Fiona and I talked about:

  • Our context: Macquarie University, the Library and being a Research Librarian
  • How we got involved with Library Carpentry
  • How Library Carpentry came about, what it’s for and what it teaches
  • Examples of how we’ve applied OpenRefine (which they were about to learn) to our work, and
  • Last but not least, the Library Carpentry community.

We learned later via our feedback survey that the introduction was too long and learners would have preferred more ‘learning by doing’. The first part was wrapped up with a true/false quiz about Library Carpentry, which got neighbours talking and the room buzzing. A few librarians mentioned finding the background information useful, e.g. ‘I didn’t know that Library Carpentry was its own community’.

In the last two hours we taught the Library Carpentry OpenRefine lesson, created by Owen Stephens. Fiona set the scene by explaining … ‘we’re here to help each other, this is a safe learning space’, and the use of the sticky note system … ‘if you need help, flag our attention by placing a pink sticky note on top of your monitor’. Our group was respectful and loved what they were learning. It was fantastic to hear the ‘aha’ moments and their engagement as we worked through the exercises.

Positive feedback about the lesson material included:

  • ‘Real life examples & future applications’
  • ‘Structure & organisation …’
  • ‘How easy it was to use, and [how] intuitive’
  • ‘Making connections with participants prior knowledge, e.g. similar features to Excel’
  • ‘Knowing that I can apply what we covered in the real world!’
  • ‘… Already seeing the potential’
  • ‘It was really clear and an intuitive progression through the process’
  • ‘Showing how database management is doable for someone like me who isn’t geeky. I love cleaning up and streamlining things, and now I know I could do this with data if I wanted to - that data is ultimately things to be managed.’

Critical feedback was constructive as well:

  • ‘Potential is huge - but will need to pass the gatekeepers on home turf’
  • ‘A hand-out with key functions covered would have been useful :)’
  • ‘The slight feeling of overwhelm (which probably just means I was learning something new!)’
  • ‘Because this is so far outside what I do and what I’ve always considered wanting to do, it was a little challenging thinking of applications. I would have liked some more examples of how it can be used apart from journals, (as someone not working with academic resources).’

What did we learn from this experience?

  • External workshops take a lot of preparation and planning. You need a strong comrade-in-arms to keep you on track. Thanks FJ.
  • Communicating technical requirements long distance is difficult. Once you arrive, you can only hope nothing was lost in translation. NLS8 co-convener Sally Turbitt and committee member Jay did a superb job. Jay also stayed to make sure all went smoothly.
  • We would have liked to have known more about our learners (a few even joined us from a waitlist queue outside the room!). In hindsight we should have cut down our introduction and opened up to the room instead.
  • It would have been useful for us to incorporate the collaborative note-taking tool, Etherpad, a popular part of Carpentry workshops, into our session. We could have used it to paste OpenRefine GREL expressions for participants to refer to, and as a space for learners to record their thoughts and questions for the Q&A. Another benefit of using Etherpad is that it lives on, so attendees can revisit it later or share the information with colleagues.

How did learners feel about Library Carpentry after the workshop?

There were lots of tweets - check out one, two, three, four.

Where to from here?

Written on July 6, 2017