Once upon a time, there was a search engine named Google, which, according to NetMarketShare, held nearly 75% of market share on desktops and laptops in 2018. Its closest competitor, Baidu, only held about 13% on the same devices in the same year.
There was also a library association named ALA, the oldest and largest library association in the world, which, according to its website, boasted nearly 58,000 members in 2018.
When they realized they shared the same aim—providing technology and information skills—they set out to make it a reality. They called their effort Libraries Ready to Code.
Obviously, it made sense for these two behemoths to join forces. In April 2016, Google and ALA announced Libraries Ready to Code as their first partnership. The initiative supports library staffers who facilitate high-quality, informal computational thinking opportunities for pre-K to 12th-grade youth in ways that are grounded in research and aligned with library core values. Through computer science (CS) and coding activities, children can engage in computational thinking as a critical literacy skill, developing knowledge that enables them to take advantage of and make informed decisions about their future.
In 2017, 30 cohort libraries of varying sizes and types, including both public and school libraries from cities and towns all over the U.S, were awarded grant money to cover whatever startup and other costs were critical to beginning the program. The libraries used the grant money in various ways depending on their selective needs.
Computer Science Education
At the initiative’s launch, Hai Hong, program manager of Google K–12 Education, said, “Both Google and the [ALA] have missions that include equitable access to information, so our joint effort to expand computer science learning opportunities is a natural partnership. While efforts are underway at the national and state levels to expand CS opportunities in formal education, our nation’s libraries are uniquely positioned to bridge gaps now through informal learning. Google is excited to partner with the ALA to expand access to CS for all students.”
Marijke Visser, an associate director and senior policy advocate at ALA and project director for Libraries Ready to Code, has been directly involved in all stages of the initiative. She explains its advantages: “All kids benefit from coding and other CS activities—not only those planning to work in technology-specific fields. The [computational thinking] skills youth develop through coding activities prepare kids for success no matter where they head when they leave high school. Ready to Code libraries help kids connect their interests to learning opportunities in college or to careers they may not have even considered, especially for youth from diverse backgrounds.”
Developing computational thinking skills represents the core curriculum component for the Libraries Ready to Code program. According to ALA, it’s all “about understanding what a problem is, developing solutions, and presenting those solutions in a way that a computer, a human, or both, can understand.”
Robots for Tots
Misty Hawkins is the branch manager of Charleston Public Library in Charleston, Ark. Charleston is a rural community with a population of only 2,500. Hawkins “enjoys helping people navigate through new technologies and loves working at a library, where every day is an opportunity for learning.” Libraries Ready to Code grant money was used to purchase computers and obtain high-speed internet access at her library. Since many of the area’s children are homeschooled, their interaction with computers was minimal. Hawkins’ goal was to foster digital literacy, introducing younger children to computers.
The library launched a Tiny Tots program for 5-year-olds and a 3-times-a-week storytime for 3- to 4-year-olds featuring the LEGO WeDo robotics hardware and software platform. LEGO WeDo is “specifically designed for Kindergarten to Grade 2 students. As with other LEGO Education products it follows the 4 C’s process—Connect to a story, Construct a model, Contemplate its function, and Continue improving its design.” At these programs, children are learning computational thinking as well as becoming better prepared to embrace new technologies.
Hawkins shares her thoughts on the programs: “Working with the [ALA] and Google on the Libraries Ready to Code initiative was a rewarding experience, both personally and professionally. Through the process, our library had the opportunity to serve children of all ages, expand programming options and fill a void in our community.”
From Program to Prom
Heritage High School’s library is another cohort library, albeit one with a different focus for its Libraries Ready to Code program. The school, with a total of 1,350 students, is located in Newport News, Va., the fifth-largest city in the state, which has a population of nearly 180,000. Unlike Charleston, Ark., Newport News is a primarily middle-class, urban community.
Melanie Toran is the lead school librarian, grade-point facilitator, and new-teacher coordinator for Heritage High School. She is a 20-year veteran of the education sector, with 15 of those years spent in librarianship. She ensures that staffers and students are effective information users and must also take care of library equipment, such as the printer. She collaborates with teachers and other librarians in the city and always makes time to learn from the students.
Toran focuses on working with teens who have moderate intellectual disabilities. Libraries Ready to Code grant money was used to purchase iPads to provide unplugged programming for the 15–22 students chosen to participate in the library’s learning to code program. Noticing that love of music, movement, and dancing were key characteristics of this group, Toran created a program in which the students could develop their own sounds. Using robots and Google bots, they were tasked with coding musical jams. This 12-week exercise culminated in a prom, when the music that the students had created was performed. Each student also received a certificate of completion.
Toran learned from the program, saying, “I thought coding was a bunch of numbers with encrypted messages; I had no idea coding is just a set of instructions or directions as to what I want the computer to do.”
In November 2018, ALA and Google expanded Libraries Ready to Code by providing 250 additional school and public libraries with $500 each in microfunding to help plan and implement coding activities during Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek) 2018 (Dec. 3–9; csedweek.org). ALA president Loida Garcia-Febo said at the time, “ALA is proud to continue the expansion of Libraries Ready to Code. We hope this microfunding for libraries will not only generate enthusiasm for [CSEdWeek], but spark year-round programming to develop critical thinking and digital skills youth can draw on over a lifetime.”
The numbers say it all. Libraries Ready to Code cohort libraries reached about 9,200 youth of all ages. Kudos to both ALA and Google for recognizing the need for more computer literacy and helping to cement the role of the library in today’s world.
And they lived happily ever after … but ALA and Google aren’t done yet.
In January 2019, ALA and Google announced a national tour of libraries with the Grow with Google program, which will provide free workshops for job seekers, small businesses, and library staffers. In addition, according to the press release, “Recognizing the critical role libraries play in supporting workforce development in communities across the country, Google is also investing $1 million in libraries. Following each state’s Grow with Google workshops, ALA will open applications through Libraries Lead with Digital Skills for micro-funding to libraries throughout that state to provide programming, outreach, and education in their own libraries, to address the digital skills gaps of job seekers and small businesses.”
Libraries Ready to Code resources are available at ala.org/tools/readytocode/readytocoderesourcesforlibraries.