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Libraries as Hubs for Coding?

School libraries are taking on new roles in the digital age. No longer simply places to check out books or browse the internet, today's libraries can be STEM hubs—homes to makerspaces or coding tutorials.

With a new $500,000 competitive grant program that will fund computer science programming in school and public libraries across the country, the American Library Association and Google hope to further that transformation.

"Libraries are locations where every person and every child, no matter what courses they're taking in school, can get opportunities for math and science," said ALA President Julie Todaro, in an interview.

"It takes students out of learning where they're tested for it and scored for it, and puts them in a public setting where they can learn, and have fun, and discover—and feel free to take risks."

The grant program is designed to help library professionals develop and implement computer science instruction and foster computational thinking skills. The 25-50 libraries chosen to receive grants will pilot a computer science toolkit, developed by the ALA and Google with input from U.S. libraries, that details resources and strategies. In addition to funding, the grant recipients will also receive consulting support from Google.

The pilot program is part of Libraries Ready to Code, a partnership between Google and the ALA to equip libraries to deliver computer science programming.

Computer science and coding programs have seen a surge of popularlity in the nation's K-12 schools in recent years, and Google is just one of the companies to have lent its financial might to those efforts. At the same time, backers of coding courses have sometimes disagreed on what kinds of coding curricula and lessons are most useful for students, to prepare them for careers and improve their overall tech-focused skill sets.

A key goal of the ALA grant program is to give students who are underrepresented in computer science fields—girls, students from low-income families, and students of color—a chance to try out those subjects and build computational skills, said Todaro.

For kids who don't have the applicable technology at home, or aren't in advanced math and science classes at school, libraries may be the only place where they can explore coding and other STEM subjects, she said.

Even if students are not planning to pursue careers in computer science, the concepts and methods of problem solving have broad applications, said Marijke Visser, associate director of the ALA's office for information technology policy and project manager of the libraries ready to code project.

The skills that students develop prepare them "for success no matter where they head when they leave high school. Ready to Code librarians help kids connect their interests to learning opportunities in college, or to careers they may not have even considered," said Visser in a statement. The exposure to new ideas and job options, she added, is especially beneficial to students from diverse backgrounds.

Libraries will be able to start applying for the grants in mid-July, and applications will be accepted through August. Winners will be announced in October.

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