Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

Library Carpentry workshop at James Cook University, Townsville

We held a two-day Library Carpentry workshop at James Cook University, Townsville on 14–15 July, 2016. The workshop was a first on several fronts - the first course run by Software Carpentry trainers Jay van Schyndel and Daniel Baird from the JCU eResearch Centre and the first Library Carpentry course run at JCU. Collin Storlie, the local QCIF eResearch Analyst, agreed to help out too.

How was the workshop proposed?

Clair Meade from the JCU Library contacted Jay van Schyndel (eResearch Centre) enquiring about Library Carpentry. After some discussion Clair quickly found 12 interested librarians. With encouragement from Belinda Weaver at QCIF, Jay and Clair organised the workshop. Given the-mid semester break, finding an empty room proved difficult, but luckily we found two empty rooms. With the rooms booked, dates sorted, it was time to create the workshop web page and start advertising. Very quickly we received 17 attendees. Excitement was building!!

Day 1 of the workshop

Jay van Schyndel, Collin Storlie and Clair Meade started early setting up the room. Jay and Collin quickly learnt that librarians are great at organising morning tea. The trolley came with tea, coffee, hot water urn, biscuits, cheeses, dried fruit. Great start to the day, thanks to Clair for organising the morning and afternoon tea. Very quickly the librarians arrived and started setting up their laptops. The morning started well with the jargon busting session being a good ice breaker. The section on Data Structures was covered quickly as librarians already understand the importance of well-organised and -structured data. This gave Jay more time to focus on Regular Expressions. Some feedback received on the session:

  • “exercises were really useful in reinforcing the ideas we are learning :)”
  • “Enjoyed the exercises it helped understand the different regexes. Struggling to connect the information we are learning and how I will be able to use it.”
  • “Cheat sheet in the hand would be nice. Love the interesting websites and good exercises.”

After lunch we started on Shell. Most people were using GitBash with a few people using Terminal in OS X. Some feedback received from this session:

  • “awesome power of grep/pipe - shame some people had to leave because the ‘finale’ was great but people were also tired.”
  • “very powerful!! So much to learn!”
  • “playing with the program was great. Next time do a bit of a demo of what’s happening first, then get us to play along.”

We did run over time to try to cover everything. It’s a fine line between covering the material but also ensuring the audience can keep up. Jay was very appreciative for the assistance provided by Collin and Clair during teaching day 1.

Day 2, New Room

This was actually much better as there were screens spread around the room and everyone sat at smaller tables. Daniel Baird presented the session on Git. Here is some of the feedback.

  • “Git session: very useful + lots learnt. Blog session: not relevant for me, maybe too basic.”
  • “Github: Good, able to follow, starting to make a bit of sense. Git: ditto, starting to make sense can see benefits.”
  • “Good foundation of what it is and how it works. How can we use it in the library?”

The last session was OpenRefine presented by Collin Storlie. The librarians quickly saw the usefulness of this tool. Here is some feedback received:

  • “Great workshop!! Well explained and paced. Good to leave the window open so that we can see the steps taken. (and not open another window and tab to the other)”
  • “Found this tool very interesting and keen to test out back in the office. Pace and delivery of the lesson was great and easy to follow.”
  • “sessions structured well and very useful stuff included :) Open refine looks great!”

In summary, Library Carpentry was well received at JCU. After reviewing the feedback, it is plain most people found the training beneficial in gaining new skills to assist in their daily tasks. We will happily run another course in the future. Jay and Daniel are now planning to run their first Software Carpentry course at JCU since qualifying as instructors. Collin will assist.

A previous Software Carpentry R workshop was taught at JCU in 2015 by fly-in trainers Sam Hames and Paula Martinez from Brisbane.

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