Library Receives Coding Education Grant

Cambridge Public LibraryThe teen room at the Cambridge Public Library.

The Cambridge Public Library received a Ready to Code grant from the American Library Association and Google to run a seven-week computer science program this summer.

“Coding is something that we’ve been wanting to ramp up our services around for a while,” says Manager of Technology and Innovation Reinhard Engels. “It’s something that, as public libraries are looking at what kind of technology teaching subject matter they want to support, it seems like a very natural fit for us in Cambridge, just given the strength of the software engineering industry around here, given what libraries are really set up to support well.”

The result will be a program for kids between the ages of 12 and 14 to learn computational thinking, reinforce foundational science and math principles, and get creative. The library will expand its partnership with Innovators for Purpose, which ran a smaller-scale program at the CPL last summer.

For the first five weeks, the students will work primarily on a “WayFinders” project where they’ll develop signs with electronic components to help people navigate around the city. During the last two weeks, they’ll design their own musical instruments using technology.

All 28 libraries that received grants are communicating regularly throughout the spring with the end goal of creating a “toolkit” for coding education that other libraries will be able to use going forward. The toolkit will include findings on best curricula, successful events, and most effective teaching techniques, Engels says.

The toolkit will be released in April during National Library Week, according to the ALA.

The Ready to Code program is run by the ALA and funded by Google, marking the first time that the ALA has earmarked funds for library coding programs.

“The resources aren’t meant to transform librarians into expert programmers but to support them with the knowledge and skills to do what they do best: empower youth to create, problem solve, and develop the confidence and skills to succeed in their future careers,” Google program manager for computer science education Nicky Rigg said in a statement.

The library decided to apply for the grant in part because of a survey that showed patrons were looking for more sophisticated computer education, according to Engels.

The program will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday from July 9 to Aug. 17. Library staff are still sorting out the application process, but the program is intended to serve children who have limited access to similar programs. Thirty-six to 40 students will be accepted.

“The goal really is to make this as open as possible and to really reach kids who are maybe not going to be able to have other resources like this so easily,” Engels says. “So we’re going to try to really work with our partners in the schools to identify kids who don’t have great other options first.”