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Breaking Barriers: How One Library Is Making Coding More Accessible

by on March 24, 2016

Sameer Siruguri is passionate about coding and computer science. And he wants to share his passion with everybody—especially those who are underserved in the technology industry. “My passion is to bridge barriers for beginners in the tech world, and provide some guided explorations of intro topics that will help answer questions like—where should I get started, and is this tech work something I like?” said Siruguri, the co-founder of Digital Strategies, a technical consulting agency.[1]

He was searching for a venue to host a RailsBridge workshop, weekend event that teaches coding to diverse groups of people, in the East Bay Area in California. The local library seemed like a good place to start. He connected with Dan Beringhele, an adult services librarian at the Berkeley Public Library’s Central Library. With the support of Anwan Baker, the supervising librarian for adult services, the three planned an introductory class to coding for adults.

Berkeley has a diverse community and Baker and Beringhele wanted to see what the interest level was in learning how to code or program. The library already offered basic computer classes, but nothing more advanced so they considered the class sort of an experiment or trial run.

The Rise in Demand for Free Coding Classes

A recent Library Journal article explored the popularity of coding and programming classes at a few different library systems. Like the Berkeley Public Library, the Orlando County Library System (OCLS) offered basic computer classes in a few different subject areas. Because of the rapid growth of Orlando’s technology sector, there was an increasing demand for courses on programming language and app development. The OCLS programs have been so successful and well-received by the community, that the library system has added online classes in addition to the in-person classes.[2]

The article also discusses the need for coding courses that don’t require a long-term commitment or a high fee to attend. These free library coding classes allow anybody to test out the technical waters to see if it is something they’d like to pursue—without the financial burden.

Offering coding classes isn’t just a benefit for the community; it helps the library as well. It will likely bring in new members of the community or people who have never attended a library program or class before. At Berkeley Public Library, Baker and Beringhele noticed that many of the attendees at the class weren’t library regulars and they hadn’t seen them at any of the other computer classes.[3]

Trial and Success

Beringhele said that he and Baker don’t have much experience with coding so they left it up to Siruguri to design the curriculum.[4] Siruguri framed the class around the basic concepts of how a browser works and how coding works, which covered HTML5, CSS and JavaScript.

The class was a full house with all twenty of the classroom’s computers taken plus a few other people who brought their own laptops. Baker and Beringhele said the feedback was overwhelmingly positive from the community.

Siruguri was also pleased that not only had many attendees say they learned something, but a handful wanted to learn even more, especially about JavaScript.[5] They are planning to do a follow-up class that focuses on JavaScript and a few other advanced topics later in the spring. It will require some pre-requisite understanding of HTML so the three aren’t sure if the interest levels and attendance will differ from the previous class. But Siruguri, Baker, and Beringhele are excited to see where this new track of programming takes the Berkeley Public Library.

“We can continue to refine the process to see what classes work for our community,” said Baker. “We’re looking forward to positive things to come out it.”[6]


References:

[1] Sameer Siruguri (library volunteer) in discussion with author, March 2016.

[2] Matt Enis. “How To Talk Code | Digital Literacy.” Library Journal. February 24, 2016.

[3] Anwan Baker and Dan Beringhele (Berkeley Public Library librarians) in discussion with author, March 2016.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Sameer Siruguri (library volunteer) in discussion with author, March 2016.

[6] Anwan Baker and Dan Beringhele (Berkeley Public Library librarians) in discussion with author, March 2016.


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