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Belinda Weaver has trained people in library carpentry – and says the skills covered are now more important than ever

Belinda Weaver portraitLast year the BBC published findings on whether a robot will take your job. The bad news for librarians is that there is a 52% likelihood of that happening within 20 years.

So it is timely for librarians to look at how to stay relevant when what they are best known for – searching for information, describing and organising resources – has largely been taken over by Google and other services.

The most recent International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) Trend report flagged data as a key issue. Librarians have made great advances in data management, advising on licensing, data curation, data repositories and the like. So now might be the time for them to take a further step and learn to teach data analysis – which is where Library Carpentry can help.

The Library Carpentry toolbox is largely mental and digital. It is a library-focused, adapted version of the Software Carpentry and Data Carpentry initiatives, which were established to teach programming and data analysis skills to researchers. Though librarians can undertake that training – and many do – Library Carpentry is less intimidating, and targeted towards problems librarians need to solve. The material was developed by James Baker, a historian now based at the Sussex Humanities Lab. Any librarian can master it.

Coding for faster research

Librarians may assume that researchers already know how to analyse data. Often that is true, with researchers automating experiments, capturing and processing data, or running simulations and visualisations. But many researchers also lack programming and analysis skills. Whilst they may be knowledgeable in their discipline, those who have never been trained in coding would benefit from training in how to carry out their research faster and more efficiently. Some have 'messy' data that needs cleaning up, whilst others are overwhelmed with data that they don't know how to process. The growing number of retracted papers because of faulty calculations or coding mistakes is a warning that all is not well.

carpentry workshopLibrarians also have their own data from, say, surveys that could well yield more insights were it able to be cleaned up and mined more effectively. Or they might want to get hold of data, such as a list of all Australian Research Council awardees, but don't know how to do that easily. Often, these tasks are being done manually and laboriously when a short Python script could do the job in minutes.

Library Carpentry aims to cover data analysis and clean-up through lessons on regular expressions and tools such as OpenRefine. It also aims to teach the importance of version control, something that researchers struggle with but need to master.

As James Baker says, 'librarians play a crucial role in cultivating world class research. And in most research areas today, world class research relies on the use of software. Librarians with software skills are then well placed to continue that cultivation of world class research.'

To find out more about Library Carpentry course offerings in 2016 contact Belinda Weaver at QCIF (b.weaver@qcif.edu.au).

Belinda Weaver is the eResearch Analyst Team Leader at the Queensland Cyber Infrastructure Foundation, The University of Queensland.

Images: Belinda Weaver (courtesy of the Research Computing Centre, University of Queensland) & Belinda Weaver running a Software Carpentry workshop (courtesy of Belinda Weaver)

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