Today’s guest post comes from Susan P. Baier, Director of McCracken County Public Library. This post is the first in a series by Libraries Ready to Code cohort participants, who will release their beta toolkit at ALA’s 2018 Annual Conference.
A key focus of RtC is community engagement, and our library made this a priority as we designed and facilitated coding classes for youth. Increased engagement leads to increased understanding and support for the project and achieves buy-in from staff, library administration and the community as a whole.
Our library is governed by a five member Board of Trustees, and obtaining their buy-in and generating their enthusiasm about the project was critical. In addition to serving as policy and budgetary decision makers, they are among our staunchest community advocates. My project partner, Youth Services Librarian Lea Wentworth, spoke at a recent Board of Trustees meeting about our coding classes and RtC concepts. She also showed the trustees Dot and Dash, the robots we use in some of our programs. The trustees got to practice coding and computational thinking of their own! The trustees had fun, but they also left with a better understanding of the purpose and impact of our project. They are now better equipped to advocate for the value of library coding programs.
Partnerships and outreach are core components of our project, and our classes were designed to go outside the library and into the community. Besides bringing the classes to where our target audience is already gathered, outreach allows the library to create new partnerships and strengthen and reimagine existing ones.
The first phase of our coding classes took place at our local Boys and Girls Club, allowing us to reach a diverse group of youth from underrepresented communities in computer science. In the second phase we are facilitating classes at Sprocket, a newly opened community makerspace in our city. The Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce recently held its Business and Education Partnership meeting at Sprocket, and we were there to speak to attendees from businesses and schools about our project and to demonstrate coding lessons we facilitate with participating youth. Workforce development and entrepreneurship are high-interest topics to these stakeholders. Our message that free library coding classes for youth are one step in developing a local talent pipeline for the future resonated with them.
Our community engagement efforts also resulted in mentors and guest speakers for our youth. A local woman employed as a computer programmer with Computer Services, Inc., was a volunteer facilitator at several of our classes at the Boys and Girls Club. Next month, the director of information technology for the St. Louis Cardinals will speak to our young coders via videoconference.
I recently had a community member tell me our participation in RtC caused him to look the library with a new, fresh perspective. To me, that was the ultimate compliment. RtC granted us the opportunity to reinvent and reposition ourselves in the community, and to be viewed as an innovative partner in education and workforce development.
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