Normal Public Library Looking for "Partners in Technology" Mentors
The new pilot program helps area kids learn from local tech professionals.
Jobs in computer and information technology are expected to grow 13% over the next ten years. That’s faster than the average growth rate for any other profession, which means technology skills are more important than ever for today’s kids.
With the help of local tech professionals, "Partners in Technology," a pilot program at the Normal Public Library, wants to put computer knowledge into the hands of more children in Bloomington-Normal.
“Tech is in everything now,” said Julia Martin, the children's technology and programming librarian and coordinator for the program. “You’re going to need it anywhere you go. Our purpose with this program is to really open it up to a diverse selection of kids and pique their interest in these kinds of things.”
Mentors will meet one-on-one with their paired partner once a week from January 8th through March 1st, 2018. During these 45-minute sessions, partners will explore coding, robotic and circuiting concepts.
Community members interested in being a tech mentor to children ages 10-14 have until December 11th to apply for the "Partners in Technology" pilot program.
While the library already offers programs that allow kids to interact with technology, Martin believes mentorship is an important element of this new program. “Having someone who is older than you, who has more experience than you, who is taking the time out of their day to really encourage you in these things... I always think if I had this opportunity when I was young, I would be more confident in technology, and maybe would have started it a lot earlier too,” she said.
The library also has a reading mentorship program that serves about 200 area children each semester. Martin said the program, which has been around for about 35 years, helped provide a model for "Partners in Technology." The pilot program will begin with just 25 participant pairs, but Martin hopes to see it grow in size similar to the "Partners in Reading" program.
Martin explained that the program isn’t necessarily looking for tech experts to serve as mentors.
“I would rather have someone who’s a tech novice like I am who is really willing to sit down and learn with the kids,” she said.
Martin used herself as an example of someone who could be considered a tech professional for purposes of the program. “I’m a librarian who does technology work, but I’m not over there coding every day or really immersed in the tech world. So what we’re looking for is kind of broad.”
Technology-related work experience is preferred, at least for the pilot program, said Martin. Not only will children become more involved in technology; Martin hopes they will also gather ideas about how to translate that knowledge into a future career.
The program is funded through a $25,000 grant from Libraries Ready to Code, a partner initiative between the American Library Association and Google to expand technology programming at libraries across the country.
The Normal Public Library was one of 28 libraries chosen from an initial pool of 400 to receive funding. As part of its selection for the grant, Martin said NPL is now part of a “cohort of libraries” working on a toolkit to distribute nationwide to libraries that want to develop similar programs.
Martin said the library plans to use the grant to build and sustain the program for the next five years. The library will purchase additional technology for kids and mentors to work with hands-on programs like Ozobot and Makey Makey. Martin will also use the funds to assemble a database to help her match mentors and kids.
There may be opportunities in the near future for college students to help with the program too. Martin said she hopes to have an application available soon for student volunteers. “I’ll train (the student volunteers) on the things the mentors will be using, so if (the mentors) need help, we have those people available when I am not around.”
For more information on the "Partners in Technology" pilot program, visit normalpl.org/register or contact the Normal Public Library Children’s Department at 309-454-4668.