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Coding in Arkansas Public Libraries

Guest post by Amber Gregory, Coordinator of E-Rate Services at the Arkansas State Library, which uses funds provided by an IMLS LSTA grant to train librarians to facilitate coding programs.

Coding and computer science are a priority in Arkansas, and public libraries are working alongside schools to bring coding opportunities to youth of our state. Many Arkansas public libraries offer coding programming, and the Arkansas State Library is committed to educating and encouraging public libraries in their coding efforts. Our coding initiatives also allow us to get a statewide picture of which public libraries are coding, what those programs look like and who these programs reach.

Patrons using library computers
Librarians working on coding projects at Arkansas State Library coding training November 20, 2017 Photo credit: Amber Gregory

The seeds of the Arkansas State Library coding initiatives were planted when we started asking public librarians about coding programming in their libraries. The feedback ranged from “We want to code, but don’t know where to start” to “We have an existing program, but want to expand the current offerings.” To make sure all public libraries have a chance to learn the basics of coding and about existing resources, the Arkansas State Library scheduled 3 coding trainings to introduce analog and basic block coding. Trainings are scheduled in different parts of the state to reach the maximum number of libraries. Whether the librarian chooses to facilitate coding programming or if they seek a community volunteer, basic knowledge of coding concepts provides confidence to shape the coding program. An added benefit of the training allows librarians to network and share their coding experiences.

We didn’t want to offer training on such a relevant topic, then send librarians home empty-handed. Each library location in attendance returns to their library with a Coding in a Box Kit. Each kit contains an assortment of coding robots, computational thinking board games and Lego robotics sets. At the first training held on November 20th, the coding trainer demonstrated the coding goodies to “oohs” and “aahs” from the attendees. We have already heard from libraries that are planning coding programs around the contents of their Coding in a Box Kit. One library’s teens were immediately excited when the kits were brought into the library. Two more trainings are scheduled, and we expect to distribute coding kits to training attendees throughout the state.

In addition to the Coding in a Box Kit, the Arkansas State Library mailed 11 coding print titles to each public library branch location in the state. Librarians love books, and a small collection on a new topic can be an excellent entry into coding. The feedback from libraries, both experienced and new to coding, is that coding books always check out.

Public libraries are able to offer coding in the informal learning environment that compliments what is happening in public education. We are fortunate that Arkansas is a national leader with computer science offered in every K-12 public school. Each community will approach the opportunity to provide a continuum of coding experiences across library type differently, and we look forward to seeing these collaborations.

Coding initiatives are an Arkansas State Library project utilizing Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) funding with the purpose to educate public librarians about coding and empower them to facilitate coding programming in their local library.

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Shawnda Hines is the press officer of the American Library Association's Washington Office. Contact her at shines[at]alawash[dot]org.

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