Library Carpentry: How Two Hackathons Built Community, Content and Curriculum

Ms Belinda Weaver1

1Software and Data Carpentry, Sherwood, Australia

Library Carpentry [1] is a set of open source lessons designed to build the digital skills of librarians and other information workers. Lesson numbers have now increased from five to nine, although some lessons are still very much in the incubation phase.  Library Carpentry is also a global community, with a website, a group of lesson repositories, a logo, a Twitter presence, three active chatrooms, a core community of lesson maintainers, and a constantly growing periphery. New communities are developing in New Zealand, South Africa, and Ireland to join the already established communities in Australia, the US, the UK, the Netherlands, and Canada. The impressive growth of this new community which sprang into being in May 2016, is largely down to two hackathons that engaged people worldwide. Without the hackathons, Library Carpentry might never have gone beyond a single UK workshop.


Library Carpentry was created in 2015 as a single set of lessons [2], adapted from Software Carpentry material and delivered over a four-week period to librarians in the UK. The workshop was the brainchild of Dr James Baker, then working at the British Library, assisted by Owen Stephens and Daniel van Strien. The aim of the workshop was to introduce librarians to task automation using the Unix shell, the use of regular expressions for pattern matching in searches, and the use of OpenRefine for data cleanup.


In 2016, having taught the material myself, I set up a project to extend and update the existing four lessons under the aegis of the Mozilla Science Lab (MSL) Global Sprint [3], an annual two-day hackathon for open science projects. Take-up was enthusiastic, with more than 20 people from six countries taking part. An additional lesson on SQL was created and work was done on updating the existing four lessons. The most important outcome (apart from revised content) was a new community of people in Australia, the UK, the Netherlands, South Africa, the US and Canada committed to teaching and further enhancing the lessons. Around 30 workshops have been taught around the globe since the sprint. New people continued to learn about and join the community.


In an attempt to broaden the community in the US, Software Carpentry Instructor training was run for a cohort of 28 librarians in Portland, Oregon, in May 2017. More than half this cohort enthusiastically supported the 2017 project to update and extend the lessons, again under the MSL Global Sprint banner [4].  This drew in 107 people either working remotely or at one of 13 registered sites. New lessons on web scraping and introductory Python were developed. An ‘incubator’ workflow for lesson development was established. A tool for enhanced reporting of workshops was created. Work is now ongoing to integrate all the work of the sprint. The community is now looking at ways forward, which will include establishing some kind of governance.


A combination of an organizing etherpad, designated GitHub issues, zoom video meetings, and the Library Carpentry Gitter chat room kept sprinters engaged around the clock. More than 853 GitHub ‘events’ – pull requests, issues raised, merges and forks – were recorded throughout the sprint, which shows the level of engagement. There is a ‘back end’ view of all the repositories, from the ‘published’ lessons to those still in development [5]. The back end view includes all the lessons prefixed ‘library-‘.


Hackathons can be a very fruitful way to develop a worldwide community. However, a lot of preparatory work and forward planning must be done to ensure that the hackathon is successful in meetings its goals. I will use this session to outline my methods for assuring success.





Belinda Weaver is the Community Development Lead for Software and Data Carpentry, global organisations that aim to make researchers more productive and their research more reliable by teaching them computational and data skills. She was formerly the eResearch Analyst Team Leader for the Queensland Cyber Infrastructure Foundation, where she helped deliver cloud solutions to Australian researchers. She was a key organiser of the Brisbane Research Bazaar events in 2016 and 2017 – cross-institutional, community-building events that taught a range of digital skills to researchers.

She helped inaugurate the weekly Hacky Hour drop-in research IT advice sessions at The University of Queensland. She is a certified Software Carpentry instructor/instructor trainer and has taught  many Software Carpentry workshops. She organised the two very successful Library Carpentry global sprints (aka hackathons) in 2016 and 2017.  She will take a Library Carpentry roadshow to staff at the national and state libraries of Australasia during July and August 2017.

Belinda has worked as a librarian, repository manager, project manager, newspaper columnist, Internet trainer and in research data management. She tweets as @cloudaus (

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