Building a Community for Digital Literacy at ZB MED: The Carpentries and HackyHours

A place where everyone can come together to share topics and learn from each other

By Eva Seidlmayer, Konrad Förstner, Silvia Di Giorgio, Chris Erdmann

ZB MED – Information Centre for Life Sciences is the national library of Germany for medicine, health sciences, nutrition, agriculture and the environment. For the life sciences community, ZB MED provides invaluable services such as PUBLISSO, an open access publication portal, and LIVIVO, a literature discovery service. Also, ZB MED established a scientific programme covering a broad spectrum of data science applications from text- and data mining to bioinformatics. This is all a part of ZB MED’s digital transformation to an information centre with a broad spectrum of services and training. To help with this transformation, ZB MED takes advantage of Library, Data, and Software Carpentry training material to provide its employees a foundation in software and data skills.

The team at ZB MED sees their data science training activities as an important service for both the library and life science research communities. They have three trained certified instructors (Silvia Di Giorgio, Till Sauerwein, Konrad Förstner) and one trainer, who can train certified instructors (Konrad Förstner). In addition, the same team members assist with the maintenance and development of Library Carpentry lessons (Git – Eva Seidlmayer and Silvia Di Giorgio, Python – Konrad Förstner, and Wikidata – Muhammad Elhossary, Till Sauerwein, Konrad Förstner). Since mid 2018, ZB MED has hosted and run (in-house) five Library Carpentry workshops and one Software Carpentry workshop and taught additional workshops at the University of Cologne, ZBIW, TIB Hannover, DRL Berlin, FU Berlin, and TU Vienna. There is one question that often comes up after these workshops:

What happens after Library Carpentry workshops? While the workshops provide learners with a jumpstart, learners need to continue learning and apply what they have learned. To support this ongoing professional development, ZB MED hosts HackyHours on a weekly basis.

HackyHour @ ZB MED

HackyHours at ZB MED are informal social gatherings that give attendees the opportunity to talk about code, tools, and research. The name and concept was brought from Würzburg, where Till, Silvia and Konrad had taught several Software Carpentry workshop with other instructors. Free coffee is provided and everyone can bring a topic (which might not be discussed directly in the session). It is up to the moderators to balance the interests and demands of the attendees.

In addition to negotiating the different backgrounds of the attendees, the HackyHour moderators at ZB MED also have to account for language barriers. While the staff at ZB MED speak German, much of the scientific staff speak English, in addition to other languages. Despite these challenges, ZB MED strives to make the HackyHours inclusive and enable everyone to participate. To do this, English is the applied language and a simultaneous peer-to-peer translation to German is provided, if necessary.

HackHours programmes at ZB MED are very diverse as they are often influenced by schedules and deadlines. Since November 2018, HackyHours have come to include not only the local ZB MED community but also colleagues from other institutions. Topics in the meantime have covered introduction to Python, experiences using different integrated development environments or IDEs, single board computer Arduino projects, and Docker containers.

Prof. Rebholz-Schuhmann, Scientific Director of ZB MED, says: “HackyHours at ZB MED have provided an opportunity for people to come together, share and discuss different topics, and to continue learning. This is an important task for us as an information centre.”

ZB MED and their community are curious to see where their HackyHours will lead them to in the near future. The combination of The Carpentries training and HackyHours provide a helpful framework for expanding digital literacy at ZB MED and preparing the centre for research services moving forward.


Library Carpentry “HackyHours” “Community” Digital Literacy ZB MED The Carpentries