With employment opportunities for software, application and system developers expected to grow, and most schools still not offering computer programming classes, dozens of Arizona libraries are beginning to turn themselves into more than just a place to check out books.
“It’s no longer OK to just sit around with books and wait for people to come get the books,” said Kelly Smith, founder of Prenda, a Mesa-based education technology company.
“You can find anything online, and so libraries are under some pressure to be different. Meanwhile communities desperately need a place where individuals can come and learn and be challenged,” Smith said. “Libraries are stepping into that role and the best libraries get that.”
According to Code.org, a nonprofit dedicated to expanding access to computer science, 40 percent of schools in the United States teach computer programming. In the 2015-2016 school year, 31 schools in Arizona offered advanced placement computer science courses.
The Bureau of Labor of Statistics projects that employment for computer and information technology jobs will grow 12 percent from 2014 to 2024, which is faster than the average for all occupations. The bureau expects the creation of 488,500 new jobs in the industry by 2024.
Meanwhile, Code.org also reports that there are currently 9,667 open computing jobs in Arizona.
Although computer coding clubs may not teach all the skills children and teens will need to land computing jobs, those involved say coding clubs can provide a good foundation.
Every week, Dmitri Greene, 8, and David Greene, 9, attend coding club meetings at Tempe Public Library and Chandler Public Library, where they learn how to build websites, games and apps.
Their father, Conrad Greene, said he believes the skills his sons are learning will help them move forward in the growing fields of technology and computer programming.
“Not only does the job market require it but, from an entrepreneurial perspective, it gives them more options to develop their own games or software to put out into the marketplace,” Greene said.
Greene does not use coding in his work as a finance broker, but said the boys’ grandmother earned a doctoral degree in computer science and worked at Honeywell before retiring. She inspired Greene to emphasize the importance of computer programming and coding to his sons.
“As a parent, you always want the best for your child, and you want to give them as many opportunities as possible,” Greene said. “The more skills they have, the more options they have.”
Smith and his team created software that makes it easy for librarians with little computer programming experience to facilitate coding clubs. Smith said the software and program Prenda offers are designed to make kids learn to problem-solve instead of having the club facilitator solve problems for them.
“All librarians these days see the value of this,” Smith said. “They think it’s important but they don’t feel confident that they can do it. So, we give them software and training that makes it feel really comfortable for them.”
When Tempe Public Library’s club began last summer, youth librarian Alicia Hancock said she was shocked to see 40 kids on the wait list to fill 15 spots.
“I’ve never had a wait list for a program that was that big,” Hancock said. “I felt so bad that we couldn’t get them all in. This summer, we’re going to go ahead and have two sessions.”
Earl Aguilera, a doctoral student in the Learning, Literacies and Technology program at Arizona State University, helps facilitate Tempe’s weekly meetings with Hancock. He said he believes that coding and computer programming are important skills to learn but feels they also let students cultivate other valuable skills that they might not learn in typical classroom settings.
“What they’re really doing is they’re teaching kids persistence,” Aguilera said. “They’re teaching kids creative problem solving. They’re teaching kids to build community. They’re teaching kids to be part of something bigger than themselves. They’re teaching kids that no matter how young you are, you can make stuff and you can make a difference in the world. Coding happens to be the vehicle by which they choose to do that.”