Teaching a Library Carpentry Workshop in Southern California (and the Virtual Yonder)

This post covers instructors' experiences teaching a virtual Library Carpentry workshop in August 2020

From August 10 to 13, we taught a virtual Library Carpentry workshop to 18 librarians, primarily from California.

Our Audience

Our primary audience was librarians and library staff from the California State University (CSUs) system, a system that is relatively new to the Carpentries. When we first planned this workshop, we planned to teach it in-person at the California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) campus and therefore we anticipated our audience would be mostly from Southern California. While we missed the benefits of in-person connections and interactivity, our instruction team was excited to be able to reach a much wider audience across the CSUs. We had attendees from all across California, from Humboldt State in the north to San Diego in the south, and many points in between. Additionally, we opened up slots for librarians from other California academic libraries and also had one international attendee from South Africa!

We limited the online registration to 35 seats and also maintained an active waitlist. Based on past online teaching experience, we anticipated that a significant number of registrants would not attend even with frequent reminders from the workshop organisers. In the end, about 18 actual participants were a manageable number as the helpers were able to provide more individualised assistance.

Teaching Collaboration

Once the COVID-19 pandemic made in-person instruction impossible, we pivoted to an online format that was hosted virtually by CSULB and included four instructors and four helpers from CSU Fullerton, UC Los Angeles, UC San Diego, and UC San Francisco. In the end the online format made it much easier to include instructors and helpers from across the state.


In order to reduce screen fatigue we divided the workshop into 4 half-days from 9:00am -12:30pm PST. We taught the Library Carpentry Jargon Busting, Tidy Data, OpenRefine, Unix Shell, and Git/Github lessons. We found that the 4 half-days schedule made it much easier for learners to stay engaged. During the latter half of the workshop series the instructors and helpers decided to offer an additional “office hour” day to answer questions or help participants apply what they learned after the workshop.

Green stickies

Some of the highlights of the workshop included:

  • Meeting as an instructional team 2-3 times in advance to talk about expectations, build team rapport, and practice teaching in Zoom.
  • Starting the workshop series with a round of introductions on video/audio for all participants allowed everyone to get to know one another and break the ice
  • Having lots of helpers to make everything run smoothly - we needed a higher helper-to-learner ratio than during an in-person workshop
  • Designating a Zoom host who was not the lead instructor for the session to manage and orchestrate background breakout rooms for one-on-one support
  • Having designated “Mac support” and “PC support” breakout rooms
  • Hosting office hours the day after the workshop to give learners a chance to practice applying skills to their own data and to ask follow-up questions
  • Having a slack communication channel for the instructional team to chat behind the scenes
  • Frequently checking in with learners via the zoom yes/no feature

Red stickies:

Some of the things we learned and will do differently in the future include:

  • Have an ice breaker or breakout room at the beginning of the workshop to get people out of the webinar mentality
  • Implementing more exercises in breakout rooms. Small group work supports learners, keeps their attention and builds rapport
  • More show-and-tell demonstration of use cases at the very end (maybe during the optional 5th session–Friday) or right after a lesson unit would also be helpful
  • Highlighting what’s next for the participants: “Library Carpentry 102”
  • Potentially record the session as a resource for participants
  • Pre-creating multiple breakout rooms (new ones cannot be created on the fly without closing existing ones)

Next Steps

After successfully running a geographically diverse virtual Carpentries workshop, we look forward to collaborating on more virtual workshops in the future and will be connecting via the #california-libraries channel in the Carpentries Slack channel! The success of this workshop has also lead directly to the organization of a joint UC Carpentries workshop series organized by a number of instructors from this past workshop.

Dialogue & Discussion

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