The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is becoming a trendsetter in the world of computer science.
Teaming up with tech guru Google and the American Library Association, the library has joined a cohort of 30 libraries across the country as part of the Libraries Ready to Code initiative. The goal is to develop or enhance computer science programs for kids that will be used as a template for others across the country to mirror.
“This is part of an overall effort to increase computer literacy and offer coding to people of all ages,” says Toby Greenwalt, director of digital strategy and technology integration at the Carnegie Library.
The American Library Association distributed more than $500,000 in grants in October to libraries in the program. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, which already has a relationship with Google, will receive resources and test curriculum that will support its efforts to further add computer science and technology into its programming for K-12.
With fewer than half of the country’s K-12 schools offering computer science courses, a library is a place that can help fill that gap, says Marijke Visser, program manager with the American Library Association.
“This is about developing library leaders that will inspire and motivate and offer best practices for incorporating technology, specifically computer science, in their programs,” Visser says.
At Carnegie library, computer science already is incorporated into some programs for kids. With App Assisted Storytime, for example, librarians utilize interactive versions of a story or educational games on an iPad to enhance traditional storytelling. In the Super Science program, a series of lab experiments focusing on STEM education circulate as stand-alone programs for kids. The library has programmable robots — known as Bee-Bots and Pro-Bots — that kids can use, too.
As part of the collaboration, the Carnegie Library plans to enhance its programming and provide feedback to help others.
“A lot of it is going to be idea generating,” Greenwalt says. “Our goal is to identify kids’ interests and then give them the resources to build off of them.”
Unlike school classes with mandatory attendance, he points out, libraries need to offer the kind of programming that draws kids voluntarily.
Through the Google-sponsored Libraries Ready to Code initiative, now in its third phase, the American Library Association plans to learn what works best.
“Libraries really can increase access and exposure and change perceptions about who can code and who can be in this space,” Visser says.
That’s why a variety of libraries, from inner-city to rural with varying demographics, were selected in hopes they would create a curriculum that will work in all libraries. A computer science educational toolkit, tested and developed through Libraries Ready to Code, will be unveiled during National Library Week in April.
“This is a real opportunity for libraries to learn what they need to be doing to support youth in their communities,” Visser says, “and on the flipside, how communities can use their libraries for what they need.”