A URI Graduate School of Library and Information Sciences student (right) demonstrates to a student and her mother how to use the computer for coding at an event held at the Cranston Library. Photo by Ayla Fox.

The University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Library and Information Studies (GSILS) has received a $10,000 seed grant from Infosys Foundation USA, a multinational tech company, to facilitate Family Code Nights at three public libraries in the state.

Family Code Nights are 90-minute sessions in which parents or caregivers and their children learn fundamental computer coding skills through puzzles and the assistance of library coding mentors, which are librarians trained to facilitate the event. The three public libraries GSLIS partnered with are the Cranston Public Library, Providence Community Library and Central Falls Library.

Valerie Karno, the director of URI’s GSLIS, worked alongside familycodenight.org Executive Director John Pearce to acquire the seed grant and put Family Code Nights into action. Pearce and Karno were offered an invitation to an Infosys national conference, in which they partnered together to create a joint product – in this case, family code nights in libraries in Rhode Island.

“GSLIS has done a lot with makerspaces, and so Infosys and the Infosys Foundation USA are very involved with nonprofit organizations who work with makerspaces and coding education,” Karno said. “This was a very natural alliance.”

Karno would like Rhode Island to be the first out of all 50 states to offer family code nights at every library in the state. URI’s Graduate School of Library and Information Studies seemed like a logical place to start because of the significant number of outreach programs that Karno, the graduate students and the rest of the team already have in place.

Pearce trained 10 graduate students, librarians and library professionals in Rhode Island how to properly facilitate a Family Code Night.

“We work very, very closely with our community partners and we work very, very closely throughout the state of Rhode Island and in the region of the northeast with many libraries,” Karno said. “So, you might think of libraries as our mobile classrooms. We do a lot of professional development work. What community outreach means is that you take your skills and you extend the classroom to wherever you are.”

Karno and Pearce worked extensively to connect with libraries throughout the state because they guarantee access to technology, the internet and other required resources.

“Libraries can be the place where children and families can go to take advantage of the resources and the connectivity, and one that we wanted to take advantage of,” Pearce said. “Training librarians to conduct family code nights is a natural for the kind of community resource that libraries are.”

According to Pearce, the Rhode Island public school system has completed a considerable amount of work implementing Computer Science education, and having Family Code Nights at the state libraries made sense. Karno explained that due to the increase in technology, coding has become a fundamental part of everyone’s life.

“So any time you’re using your phone, anytime you’re using a computer, a program, an algorithm that has already been coded by someone and everything that you are able to do through your devices is because someone has coded that device to be able to respond to your commands,” Karno said. “It’s very, very important for kids and their parents at this point to understand the basics of coding because it’s already involved in so much of what we do. So many careers now depend on a basic understanding of what happens in coding.”

Karno, Pearce and GSLIS have already held one event at the Cranston Public Library in December. At the event, teams of a parent or caregiver and their child work through a series of coding puzzles.

Each puzzle taught the team of two a “big idea” about computer science. Pearce was the MC of the event, and lead an orchestrated experience for all those who attended.

The event lasted for an hour and 15 minutes. URI President David Dooley, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, a representative from Governor Gina Raimondo’s Office, a representative from Infosys and Adam Roth, director of the Harrington School of Communication and Media, all attended the event.

“The funding all went towards training people,” Karno said. “Eventually these skills can and will be translated into the classroom, but first we need to disseminate them.”

This month, the Providence Community Library and Central Falls Library will hold their Family Code Night event.

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Ian Weiner
There's the way things are perceived and then there's reality. The role of a journalist is to help the public differentiate between the two. I'm doing this because I want to make a difference. Giving people the resources they need to be informed is one of the most critical things any society can have. In addition, I like telling stories, whether they are about people, places, things, events, you name it. Lastly, it is an honor to be able to lead the editorial staff, help them achieve everything they want, and leave knowing The Cigar will have a brighter future than ever before.