Software Carpentry at the Library of Congress

In February, we hosted 40 librarians, archivists and data wranglers at the Library of Congress to learn advanced skills in managing digital collections.
National Digital Initiatives (NDI/NP/NIO) hosted a Software Carpentry workshop, inviting staff from the Library, the DC Public Library and federal libraries for hands-on learning in the programming language Python, the version-control software Git, and the command-line interface Bash.
Software Carpentry trainer Mark Laufersweiler conducts programming and coding workshop at the Library of Congress, February 16, 2017. Photo by Shawn Miller.
Software Carpentry is a volunteer, non-profit organization that provides short, intensive workshops to help researchers automate tasks and manage information. It started with scholars in the physical sciences who found that traditional graduate programs were not preparing them for the challenges of working with data for their research products. Software Carpentry workshops have lately been adapted for social sciences, the humanities, and libraries.
“Librarians and archivists are already using these tools to accession and manage digital collections,” said Jaime Mears, who helped organize the event. “They are mostly self-taught, looking to get a job done. I am constantly inspired by the resourcefulness and ingenuity of my colleagues. NDI wants to help give the profession a boost when it comes to learning, and we think Software Carpentry is a good model for that.”
The goal of the workshop isn’t to teach librarians to become application developers but to give them greater fluency with or new uses for tools they are usually already using.
Julia Kim, Digital Assets Specialist for the American Folklife Center searches for a string of characters in the command line, February 16, 2017. Photo by Shawn Miller.
“I can see an opportunity to use scripts to improve researchers’ experience in the reading room,” said Kathleen O’Neill, a senior archives specialist in the Manuscript Division. “For those researchers with limited experience with digital collection material, we could provide a library of simple scripts to search, analyze and report on the born-digital collection material.”
The workshop was taught by Mark Laufersweiler and Mark Stacy of the University of Oklahoma Libraries. Also on hand for the day were professional coders who could help students as they got stuck. Mostly from the Repository Development Group and Web Services in OCIO, these staff members have worked closely with the curatorial divisions and have seen their challenges firsthand.
“Joining the workshop as helpers encouraged the mutual understanding between my staff and the curatorial staff – probably the most valuable part of the experience for us,” said David Brunton, Supervisory IT Specialist.
The organizers were pleased to see such a range of experience and perspectives among the attendees, which included librarians from NIST and the Peace Corps and executive management at the Library.
“I was eager to gain exposure to some of the programming basics that are important in the digital humanities both so that I could advocate more intelligently for these new modes of scholarly inquiry (and so that I could understand what my colleagues in NDI are talking about),” said Jane McAuliffe, Director of National and International Outreach.
NDI, which hosted the event as part of its mission to provide digital leadership for libraries and archives throughout the country, is considering hosting more Software Carpentry events in the future. The staff of the division can be contacted at ndi@loc.gov.