According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, women are underrepresented in the technology industry – comprising just 25% of the workforce. These careers are often higher-paid, and technology skills are in high demand, so it should be an important mission of libraries to help ensure that young girls have opportunities to explore technology-related careers. (In this article, “girls” refers to all who identify as girls and is inclusive of gender-nonconforming children.) Many librarians are intimidated by the prospect of creating STEM programming for young children, but it can be an exciting and rewarding endeavor, with benefits that go beyond simply learning how to code.
Emma Mitchell, who has worked in the technology industry for over a decade, founded a nonprofit called InspireHER STEM to provide young girls in rural Kenya and in the United States with technology-related resources and skills. She partnered with Richland Library, a public library system in South Carolina, to run two cohorts of a six-week course called “Young Girls Who Code”.
Through coding exercises, virtual robotics programming, and app development, Mitchell introduces young girls to the environment, vocabulary, and careers associated with the STEM field. Mitchell aims to expose girls “to the world of science, technology, engineering, and math through different methods and activities and get them interested in a career in technology.” She adapts some of her curriculum from Girls Who Code, a national organization that offers lesson plans and activities in coding and computer science. Mitchell’s philosophy is to provide a challenge and allow the girls to apply problem-solving and creativity to come up with solutions. Even if their programs don’t work, they get to practice those skills, along with perseverance.
The partnership between Richland Library and Emma Mitchell is a great example of how organizations can come together to empower young girls and give them the resources they need to succeed in technology. An important part of the program is teaching the girls about online safety and avoiding misinformation. Mitchell teaches them to “THINK” when encountering new information – the acronym stands for True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, and Kind.
Mitchell also incorporates a mentorship component to her programs. She invites guest lecturers who use technology in their careers but work in fields other than computer science. Mitchell says, “We don’t want every girl to end up being a computer scientist, we want every girl to use technology to solve everyday problems. That’s the main goal.”
Another goal of Mitchell’s program is to help the girls build community. As a Black woman in the technology industry, Mitchell has at times felt alone. She wants to ensure that the women who follow her have a cohort they can rely on to support and understand them. Mitchell originally had trouble recruiting Black girls to InspireHER STEM, but she overcame this through partnering with Black-owned businesses. Alex Biscoll, the youth librarian who worked with Mitchell to run the program, noted that even after the six-week Richland Library classes, the attendees have maintained their relationships with each other.
Utilizing Girls Who Code and partnering with local organizations can be a great way to bring STEM projects to your library, especially if you’re just starting out. By collaborating with experts, you can create meaningful and engaging programs that will inspire young girls and help build a stronger community.
Girls Who Code – a national organization that offers girls in grades 6-12 the opportunity to learn about coding and computer science in a fun and supportive environment.
The Friendship Code – a children’s book about four girls who form a coding club and learn about friendship, teamwork, and coding principles while developing an app to help their community.
InspireHER STEM – an organization whose mission is to equip, inspire, and connect underprivileged girls with STEM economic empowerment and life skills exposure.
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group, II. Reference and User Services, III. Programming Skills., V. Outreach and Advocacy
Adele Chase is a member of the ALSC Children and Technology Committee and an advocate for women, girls, nonbinary people, and people of color in STEM fields. She is a customer service associate at Richland Library in Columbia, SC, and an MLIS student at the University of South Carolina.