Coding as literacy
Waupaca library encourages computer programming
By Angie Landsverk
A coding initiative is beginning in Wisconsin’s public libraries.
“Libraries in the nation are being asked to be a partner because we see coding as a new literacy, just like reading and writing,” said Sue Abrahamson, the Waupaca Area Public Library’s youth services librarian.
While coding involves computer programming, she says it is about so much more.
“It’s not that everyone has to do it as a job but understanding why it is useful,” Abrahamson said.
Coding is writing and using a special language to tell computer software, mobile apps or web pages what to do.
It includes computer science, collaboration, programming and creativity.
“I don’t think people on the street understand what coding is,” she said. “It is computational thinking – breaking things down by smaller steps.”
Abrahamson said that is a skill employers want to see in their employees.
They want employees who are able to see a problem, break it into smaller parts and then solve it, she said.
Since public libraries are creating makerspaces, they are becoming places where people learn about coding and then try it.
Last summer, public libraries through Wisconsin were invited to apply to be one of 20 sites to host a free screening of the the 2015 documentary “CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap” with accompanying activities and events.
The documentary focuses on the lack of females and minorities in the field of software engineering.
Abrahamson applied to have Waupaca’s library be one of the hosts, and it was among those chosen.
“We already had all this coding stuff,” she said.
The library began with Lego robotics, offered an hour of code activities last year and recently received a 3D printer for the teen makerspace programming.
The Friends of the Library paid for the printer, and it arrived after the library borrowed one for three weeks.
People of all ages waited in line to make a comb, said Emily Heideman, the library’s teen librarian.
Abrahamson said children wanted to learn more and were soon using it to make tools.
“It’s giving kids the opportunity to see where technology can solve problems,” she said.
Abrahamson thought offering a week of coding activities was a good fit for the library.
The library will host “Coding Week” Jan. 16-21.
She chose that week because Jan. 19 is an early dismissal day in the Waupaca School District, and there is also no school the next day.
Codng activities for people of all ages are being planned for throughout the week.
The library will screen “CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap” at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 17, in the library’s downstairs meeting rooms.
Abrahamson is partnering with the school district and business community on the project.
She noted that in Wisconsin, there are about 7,700 open computing jobs.
The state had 890 computer science graduates in 2014.
Fifteen percent of those graduates were women.
By 2020, there will be more jobs than people trained to fill the jobs, she said.
“It’s huge. It’s like we’re being reactive,” Abrahamson said.
In addition to breaking stereotypes related to the field, many see the need to expand computer science offerings in schools.
Abrahamson is working with Crystal Vida, a computer teacher at both Waupaca Learning Center and Waupaca Middle School.
They are working together, so the same technology students use in their classrooms is available at their local public library.
Children may practice what they learn in school and also show their parents, Abrahamson said.
“Just like reading is a family thing, so is coding and computational thinking a family thing,” she said.