Over the last few years the library world has been buzzing about programming in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and coding, the new digital literacy. For many librarians like myself, who come from a humanities background and are used to planning programming around books and literature, this new digital literacy can seem daunting. Add in the fact that many celebrated STEM and coding programs are backed by large budgets, multi-system libraries, and lots of staff, and the idea of putting together a meaningful program at your own library can seem almost impossible! However, I’m here to tell you that you don’t need a big budget and oodles of staff to bring computer science to your community. You just need Girls Who Code.
Girls Who Code is a national nonprofit aimed at closing the gender gap in tech. As the name Girls Who Code indicates, women are still vastly underrepresented in the tech industry – just 18% of computer science graduates are women. Girls Who Code is working to change this with their FREE Clubs program that teaches middle and high school girls how to code after school during the academic year. The organization partners with volunteers like libraries to host and facilitate the Club curriculum – all you need to host your own Club is space, computers, internet and leadership. The program goes beyond just exposing young people to the hard skills of computer science, it also fosters soft skills like public speaking, networking, and collaboration. Additionally, the Girls Who Code network includes a supportive and active community of over 10,000 girls across the country.
As a librarian without a technical background, the best part about sponsoring a Girls Who Code Club is that they provide the curriculum and a technical instructor if you can’t find your own. This last school year, my library hosted a Girls Who Code Club for 13 girls. I was responsible for the administration of setting up the Club: advertising, holding information sessions and signing up students for the program – all skills that I use every day as a librarian. Additionally, I was responsible to set up presentation equipment for each Club meeting and helped plan and arrange a graduation at the end of the academic year. It was a role that I was not only well-equipped to do but one that also felt extremely rewarding!
My library doesn’t have a separate computer lab, but we have 12 computers in our teen room. As many of our regular students like to use the computers after school to play games and do homework, we set our Club meeting time to 9:15 am on Saturday mornings. The biggest struggle I had with starting the Club was – surprisingly not our early meeting time – but managing the student demand. We had over 40 interested students and not enough computers! I was floored that there were so many girls determined to wake up early every Saturday morning to learn to code. That’s no easy feat for teenagers!
Through sponsoring a Girls Who Code Club, I’ve not only been able to bring digital literacy to my community, I’ve been able to have a hand in shaping future technology. The Club has been one of the most popular programs at our library and I’m excited for the Club to launch again this fall.
If your library has space and computers to host a Girls Who Code Club, I highly recommend that you bring one to your library! To learn more and apply, go to www.girlswhocode.com/Clubs!
Anna Tschetter is a Teen and Reference Librarian north of Boston who is passionate about community building, connecting teens to the right books, and innovative programming. She writes about libraries, YA, and Star Trek at lcarslibrarian.com and womenwriteaboutcomics.com.