Coding on the Coast – Library Life

by Laura Findlay

Libraries as Facilitators:
Coding on the Coast

Part One:

I think it’s not just libraries that are wading into new waters, but all of us this side of 2016. Technology is progressing at such a rapid pace that we’re all trying to figure out what our role is. I get an interesting slot in this: I’m a ‘digital native’ but at 25 the children can run rings around me with their technologically wired brains. That has the power to make me feel old much faster than wayward comments about my ovaries.

I think that moving forward, the library’s biggest role is that of facilitator. We can be a conduit between the learners and the world-changing ideas, or information, or that lightbulb moment. Why facilitator? Why libraries? Well, in short, who else is there? I think the only valid answer to that is school because anyone else will ask for something in return: your data or your money. So why not leave it to schools to teach these all important functions or facilitate the creation of ideas? For one thing not everyone goes to school or takes the traditional curriculum.

The good thing about being a facilitator is that we get to say yes. We don’t have to rely alone on the skills and knowledge, or resources, we have in house but we can say yes, we the library want to be a part of this, what can we offer? A room or space? Technology? Crowd control?

Part Two:

For a small library in a rural setting, Westland District Library packs a punch. I might be biased but in the four months I spent there we rolled out some awesome programmes. Like many other libraries around New Zealand, Westland offers Code Club. I love having a quick squiz through Twitter most afternoons and what I see there is libraries constantly redrawing the boundaries with cool tech. Code Club is maybe old news, but coding being at the heart of most things, it’s the jumping off point for children and libraries.

Being a small library generally means less. Less staff, less money, less resources. But hey, we still get to be the facilitator because in this sense, size doesn’t matter. Our Code Club works like this. We provide the space, a spare room, and we manage the membership side. The local High School loans us a set of Chromebooks which we make a dash for at 3.30 each Wednesday. They also loan us their IT technician, Flow, who runs each session (and tries to include algebra lessons and arcade game history on the sly). I took the role of assistant and got busy learning about Scratch (and chasing down rogue club members). We started out with about 10 kids and lost a few along the way as happens but the kids in the Club at the moment manage to put a smile on my face each week with their perseverance and enthusiasm (quite frankly you could dangle a KitKat in front of their nose and they wouldn’t look away from the game they’re making).

We’ve worked our way through a number of Scratch projects and have now gone off the beaten track. Last week we introduced the kids to Super Breakout (OK, I wasn’t alive in 1978 so it was an intro for me too) and then backwards engineered it, asking the question ‘how do we make this?’ and using Scratch. We only had four members at that session so we thought we’d try something – teamwork! They crowded around one computer and shared the keys. Flow and I sat back and grinned at each other. Their cooperation would put some of us grown-ups to shame.

The next plan is to make one game as a team, with each member having a different role (kind of like real life) so the kids can play to their strengths. I’m keen to see how that pans out. Beyond that we are deciding what will happen to Code Club in 2017, with a waitlist of six. The library is also hoping to get its mitts on its own computers at some point and then…world domination from Hokitika? For now our Code Club is an ode to collaboration and the synergy between community and library.

I’ve now returned to my normal role as Library Assistant at Nelson Public Libraries, so will be watching the developments on the Coast from a (slightly drier) distance.

Originally published in November issue of LIANZA produced Library Life.