Inspiring library staff and your community: CS Ed Week in Paducah, KY

Guest post by Susan Baier, Director of McCracken County Public Library (Paducah, KY), a Libraries Ready to Code grant recipient. Along with Youth Services Librarian Lea Wentworth, Baier is implementing the Next Level! Coders Club for middle and high school students. 

children's hands playing a board game

Youth at the Oscar Cross Boys and Girls Club in Paducah, KY, practice computational thinking concepts by playing the board game Code Monkey Island. Photo Credit: McCracken County Public Library

Getting your staff and your community excited about computer science is a critical factor in the success of your library’s coding and computer science (CS) programs. We know that coding isn’t passively sitting in front of a computer screen, but there may be members of your staff and your community who aren’t sure what it’s all about. That’s okay, because it creates an incredible teaching opportunity for us!

At the McCracken County Public Library, we are celebrating CS Education Week with multiple programs for patrons, but we also are encouraging our staff to get in on the fun. We have asked all staff to participate in Hour of Code and experience coding first hand. Our staff have built contraptions with Little Bits, programmed a robot, used beads representing binary code to create a key chain with their initials, and completed a Star Wars activity on Code.org.

The better understanding staff have of coding and its importance, the better advocates they will be for our library’s coding programs. And in Kentucky, there is even an extra incentive as public library staff are required to complete continuing education contact hours for certification. Participating in Hour of Code and earning a completion certificate counts toward certification.

Engaging the community is equally important, and can open the doors to new partnerships and collaborations. As a director, I’m frequently asked to speak to community groups and organizations about the library. I often find great teachable moments in these speaking opportunities. When I talk about our library’s coding programs, I talk about how coding teaches problem solving, computational thinking, project management and collaboration – skills necessary to be successful in school and in life. I stress that coding isn’t simply plopping kids in front of screens – kids are actively engaged in a creative process. They transform from consumers of technology to creators of technology. When I offer that explanation, my enthusiasm is contagious and the audience “gets it.”

I have talked about our coding programs to all kinds of groups – business leaders, educators, creators and makers, and senior citizens. I recently spoke to a distinguished women’s group with a long tradition of learning and service in our community. I thought they might question coding and have concerns that our library was shifting its focus away from “traditional” reading programs. I was armed with my talking points and passionate advocacy of coding. And guess what? That wasn’t the case at all – the group totally got it, and saw how coding programs fit in with our mission. That was one for the win column!

My advice is to know your audience, do your homework so your message can resonate and share your excitement. You’re on your way to creating a community of coding enthusiasts and advocates.

About Shawnda Hines

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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