Librarian Data Science – Library Carpentry

In my last post I described why the fit between data, computing and Libraries is such a natural one. I also wrote about the anxiety many of us feel when these topics come up, and how it really isn’t warranted – we already have the institutional and conceptual framework to handle our colleagues’ and patrons’ needs.

I ended it by saying that specific skills are pretty arbitrary. The important thing is having a question that motivates you to learn some techniques to help you answer it – trying to learn technical skills without having something to motivate you is a bit like trying to learn the vocabulary of a language you’ll never have to use.

There is a bit of a paradox here. How can you even identify a question to answer if you don’t know what the tools and techniques can do? What if you go down a rabbit hole thinking that this one technique will help, when it turns out it is quite the wrong approach? Firstly, that’s exactly the kind of experience learning is all about. Secondly, there is a way to jumpstart your skills acquisition and get an overview of problem solving techniques so you might get a better chance of selecting one that meets your needs.

The Carpentries [1] are designed to give you hands on experience with coding and technical skills that relate to your environment. They take practical examples of common problems in the Library environment and teach you the bare essentials so you can understand why the tool could be useful, and how it works in your environment. A skilled instructor uses proven lessons, with helpers in the class, and students use their own devices. Time for reflection on how a specific tool could be useful or generalised to other problems is always allowed for. Instruction in the carpentries is taken very seriously, and thought the lessons are licensed very openly to be an authorised Carpentry event it needs to be be led by a certified instructor.

Library Carpentry differs from Software Carpentry in that it includes (amongst a group of other lessons you can choose between) a jargon-busting overview of technologies, tools and techniques – and most of the mystery in IT is simply vocabulary. Lessons in Library Carpentry have examples that reflect working library practices.

In my next post I want to look at how we might use Library Carpentry in New Zealand, and create a sustainable community of Librarian Data Scientists.


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