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Cataloging and Technical Services Interest Group

Meeting Overview

Emily Sherwood, Director of Digital Scholarship at the University of Rochester Libraries, began with an overview of the Library Carpentry program.

The program is relatively new and still developing. It began because librarians saw that the use of data and the need for digital literacies is increasing across all types of libraries. Library Carpentry is a model developed for librarians to help, train, and support each other in this rapidly changing environment. The program is currently gathering information on the types of skills needed in the library world and developing a set of workshops and instructors to teach those skills. 

A group of universities - University of Rochester, Colgate, Cornell, and Syracuse - received an IMLS Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program Planning Grant to explore how to move library carpentries beyond academic libraries, and to learn more about the data needs of all types of libraries. They partnered with several ESLN councils to collect information. 

So far, they have done environmental scans and surveys to learn more about what to focus on, and have conducted hands-on workshops for about 100 librarians. However, most of this was done with academic libraries. They were starting to do work with public and school libraries when the pandemic interrupted their work. They would like to assemble focus groups of public and school librarians to learn more. 

The group is now trying to determine which skills pertain to library workers’ day-to-day work so they can create targeted workshops. The hope is to create useful workshops on skills that people will continue to use after the workshop, which means they will be more likely to retain what they have learned and build on those skills. 

Mary Ann Warner of Schenectady County Public Library then spoke on her experience as a participant in Library Carpentry workshops. She has been part of the program for 1.5 years. It has been useful to her because it has allowed her to concentrate on her data skills. This can often be difficult during the normal workday because patrons get first priority. Public libraries could definitely benefit from looking at data more closely. Getting involved in the program has been a big undertaking, and she has only picked up the basics so far, but she is learning more with each step and sees lots of potential. Another benefit of training was hearing about how other libraries are using data. 

She has mostly used Open Refine so far, which provides a lot more granularity than reports from the ILS. Some things she has tried include: comparing the circulation of certain types of items between branches to help them decide where to move materials, and matching content from Overdrive and Hoople when changing platforms. 

The staff at SCPL is focusing on one small piece at a time to keep from being overwhelmed. Emily said that is one of the goals of Library Carpentry - to provide people with information and skills in useful, small chunks. You do not need to understand all or even most of a program, software or skill to effectively use it in your job. They are trying to demystify it and remove some of the scary jargon and language so people will not be intimidated to try them. The Carpentries breaks skills into chunks so it is easier to learn, and from the beginning they discuss how particular tools might be applied so people can decide which tools to focus on learning. 

Carpentries focus on open source software, which can be an issue for public and school libraries. The other issue for these sorts of libraries is that they don’t have as much autonomy as academic libraries. They need to ask systems for reports. Also, they tend to have smaller staffs than academic libraries, so it is hard to find time to work on this. 

Mary Ann said a great benefit of the Carpentries was learning about ways to make the data more useful when presenting it to administrators, boards, etc. She is learning how to create a data set so less clean-up is needed. 

Question: What role can ESLN Councils play? 

Emily: Help collect information on what kinds of data various types of libraries use. What is the end goal - what are libraries trying to figure out? Once Data Carpentries has a better idea of this, especially for non-academic libraries, they will be able to create workshops that meet libraries’ needs. 

John Myers of Union College also participated in some Data Carpentries workshops. He said that it is important to focus on tools that you will actually use so that you will retain and improve your skill set. It is too much information to retain if you don’t use the skills frequently. Alma (ILS) has prestaged reports that aren’t necessarily what the staff wants. At the Carpentries program, he learned that there are different programs that deal with data on different scales. This is helpful to determine what to use to get the data that is most useful in a given situation. 

Some libraries may want to look at the changes in the use of virtual library vs physical library resources over the past year and coming months as we emerge from the pandemic. 

Stephanie Anderson, Albany Public Library - The library wants to look at patron-driven usage, especially now that they are likely facing tight budgets in the next few years. Want to get data quickly, in a very visual format (not long Excel spreadsheets!) for the director, board, and other decision-makers to show why they are shifting money. Don’t want to buy expensive products to do this, so learning the skills will be very helpful. 

Emily - Carpentries would love to get sample data sets from libraries and use them as part of a workshop to show how the tools can be used and applied. 

For smaller libraries that don’t have the resources to take full part in the program, it would be helpful to teach the basics of using the tools to answer a specific question that most libraries deal with and/or create documentation for this and distribute to all libraries in the system. 

Mary Ann noted that much of what she is learning can be used to help patrons - e.g. how to use data to get information that will help market your business in Schenectady. Emily said that they have received requests on how to make visuals and maps from US Census data, so they may be developing programs on that. 

The next CATS meeting is June 23, 2021.

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