Upcoming Library Carpentry Community Call

This material is presented as a backgrounder to the two upcoming community calls on October 10 about the future direction for Library Carpentry. This includes some material from this GitHub issue as well as some history for those new to this area.

How we got here

Library Carpentry began as a one-off workshop delivered in November, 2015 by Dr James Baker, then part of digital services at the British Library in London. The original workshop was taught over four weeks, and it included four modules: data intro, shell, git and OpenRefine.

The workshop was moderately well-received … It could have been ‘end of story’ right there as James left the British Library not long afterwards for a history lectureship at the University of Sussex.

Fast forward to the Mozilla Science Lab Global Sprint of 2016 at which I ran a Library Carpentry project … and unleashed the whirlwind ! We had more than 20 people from six countries take part. Work shot ahead after that sprint with new lesson materials, quizzes and challenges being developed, a new ‘front end’, and even more repositories being created or updated. Lots of new people also joined the project as active contributors and lesson maintainers. We also launched a Twitter account and got a logo.

You can read more about what we achieved.

Lots of workshops

Eighteen workshops were taught in 2016, and there have been 24 taught so far this year (with many more in the pipeline).

The community grew enormously thanks to the 2017 sprint when more than 107 people signed on to work across 13 sites, with a lot of people working remotely. You can read more of the mechanics of that sprint here. The community is still highly active – lots of commits, pull requests and constant interaction via the chat room, GitHub issues and Twitter.

Planning the future

After the success of the 2017 sprint, I started a discussion here about the future of Library Carpentry.

In order to grow, and to meet the needs of new people who want to get involved, I think we need some mechanisms in place to handle enquiries and to deal with ever-increasing numbers of requests for workshops all around the world. We also need a body that can engage with funders, as we have scaled up far beyond what a small volunteer community can handle.

There are library and archivist organisations who want to access the training so we need some kind of official structure they can engage with and possibly fund. Money - lots of money - to spread these skills could be potentially on the table in the US, Canada, the Netherlands - it is already being provided in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. That kind of interest and demand needs to be managed.

A recent IMLS grant has also been won in the US to fund Library Carpentry development there. We need to work out how that will be managed.

We also need some ground rules about what kind of community we are, how we skill up our people, what we teach, and how we conduct ourselves.

We have largely piggybacked on the Carpentries up till now - adapting some of their material, getting some librarians trained as instructors through their training program, following their code of conduct, and using infrastructure like workshop templates to advertise workshops or their AMY system to record them.

Become a fully fledged ‘Carpentry’?

So the time has come to take stock and think about whether we aim to become a fully-fledged ‘Carpentry’ or whether we go off in some other direction.

In my opinion, the status quo cannot hold. It worked for us between the 2016 sprint and now, but the massive explosion of interest since 2016, the quintupling of involvement between the 2016 and 2017 sprints, and the growth of new communities eager to teach the skills means we need something more.

The systems Software and Data Carpentry have in place are enablers: there are clear pathways to request workshops, to request instructor training, to debrief after a workshop or get guidance before. These systems facilitate involvement, whereas our ad hoc structure does not.

So do we join with Software and Data Carpentry or strike out on our own?

Software and Data Carpentry have already decided two systems are untenable and are planning to merge into one organisation. I don’t think we should build our own instructor training system, our own workshop systems, when such proven systems already exist. We need a structure and a system of governance that assigns responsibilities but that also opens up pathways for people to play a role. Ad hoc structures - what we have now - don’t allow people to do that. They are actual barriers because no–one is sure who is authorised to do what or how they might take the initiative.

At the very least we need to decide:

  • Who is a Library Carpentry instructor?
  • What do we teach? Do we mandate a core, or let people pick and mix?
  • What is a Library Carpentry workshop, and what is a local adaptation? And is that fine? Or not?
  • How do we train new people in our teaching and workshop methods?
  • How do we accurately record all the workshops we teach and provide a mechanism for people to do that themselves?
  • How do we create local structures people can join, e.g. local chapters?

I would suggest we need at least some kind of interim Steering Committee to manage discussion about these areas.

Having advisors from the library and archives world would also be great. Who is on a committee, how it would work - these issues can all be discussed openly in the upcoming calls on October 10.

Please have your say!

Building Library Carpentry has been a strong community effort. We would like its future direction to be decided by its community.

Written on October 3, 2017