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#OnTheRoadULC: Featuring Providence Public Library // Two Librarians & A Microphone Podcast

Tune in to hear how Providence Public Library exhibits the idyllic library mission of providing for the community when there's a need not being fulfilled. 

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, by 2020 there will be 1.4 million computer science jobs in the United States, and only 400,000 qualified candidates. Rhode Island assessed the need of computer science skills in their community and made it a priority to integrate programs into every K12 classroom. 

With the ability and agility to respond immediately, Providence Public Library launched Rhode Coders and Data Navigators programs for adults and teens to address the workforce and economic development need.


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Jim Heuer [00:00:00] Hey everybody, this is Jim Heuer, host of the podcast Two Librarians and A Microphone. The next episode you're going to hear was recorded over conference call technology. We did not get a chance to speak with Jack Martin, executive director of the Providence Public Library, while we were in Baltimore, but we did have an opportunity to record a session with him, so sit back and listen, and we hope you enjoy. Thanks. Hi, and we are here with the executive director of the Providence Public Library, Jack Martin. Jack, thanks for joining us.

Jack Martin [00:00:48] Thank you for having me.

Jim Heuer [00:00:50] You were recently given an honorable mention in the Work Force and Economic Development category for a program that you all are calling Rhoder Coders and Data Navigators. Can you tell the folks what that program is, and what you're trying to do with that particular program for your page?

Jack Martin [00:01:11] Sure! So, it's actually Rhode Coders, not the Rhoder Coders, but the Rhoder Coders is actually kind of fun to say as well. These two programs basically emerged out of our education department. They are always out there in the field talking to our community, and there was a realization that there were all these new technology jobs that are coming into the State of Rhode Island, and a survey that was published that basically proved that Rhode Islanders didn't have the tech skills to take those jobs. We basically joined forces with a couple other public libraries in Rhode Island, and we created our first cohort of the Rhode Coders. It was around 20 people in the class, and this was around the summer of 2015, I believe, and it was just a pile of tests. It's 10 classes. We teach you HTML and CSS over those 10 weeks, and then you receive a certificate at the end of that class. We graduated 100% of the people who took that class at the end of the session, and it was so popular, it was spread by word of mouth, that we actually had to offer two separate courses in the Fall, and the demand for the Rhode Coders has continued to grow. I was just talking to my education director today, and that could be all that we do here at the Providence Public Library because the demand is so high. It's essentially a 10-week class where you learn CSS and HTML. Along the same line of that, we're assessing the need of what the public needs in order to join the workforce, there was another need for the content that's in the Data Navigators, and that's basically a 10-week,

Jack Martin [00:02:50] data visualization course where we use a very complex platform, and, basically, learners, they do an environmental scan for an issue that they want to find data and then figure out a way to use that data and create a visualization out of it. The platform is actually called Tableau, and, again, that is another 10-week course, they receive accreditation at the very end of that, and we actually have tracked how people have gotten jobs as a result of these two classes. That was a very long-winded, roundabout way of describing them.

Donna George [00:03:24] Jack, this is Donna.

Jack Martin [00:03:26] Hey Donna.

Donna George [00:03:27] Were you working with high school kids, college kids, adults, kind of what's your target audience for this program?

Jack Martin [00:03:33] The Rhode Coders and the Data Navigators were primarily geared at adult learners. We have a fairly good-size population of adults here who have just finished college and are looking for jobs, and we also have folks who are making a job transition, meaning that they're transitioning out of one field of work and they're looking to gain new skills to join into another field of work. We started off with adults, but then, two years ago, we actually piloted it with high school students and young adults, and when we say young adults we say adults between the ages of 15 and 24, but we have scaled both of those classes to meet the needs of both of those audiences. So, we have a very successful young adult cohort actually happening right now, and then we also run several cohorts for adults in different libraries across the state.

Donna George [00:04:25] That's fantastic! Those are two age groups that I think we've heard are a little bit hard to get into the library sometimes, so congratulations for creating balance with this one.

Jim Heuer [00:04:36] What I see also is that you had success with your patrons who are finding either a work in these fields or going on to college. Talk about really hitting the mission or part of the mission of a library that's really filling a need, and it seems like you all can do this a little bit faster or easier. I don't know if easier is the right word, but faster than the public schools in terms of the market that Donna was talking about, getting some of those younger students and teaching them what's really a lucrative field.

Jack Martin [00:05:08] I would also add that one other really exciting part of the high school cohort of Rhode Coders and Data Navigators is that the students are coming to these classes after school, but we are actually working with partners to help those students get credit towards their actual high school diploma. We're working with a nonprofit called the Advanced Course Network, and we basically cross walk our curriculums to theirs, and kids actually have credit towards their diploma, so it's credit for the diploma learned outside of the classroom. Then to your other point, about being able to do these things very quickly, Providence Public Library, our education team, we pride ourselves on being very responsive to community needs. If we see a need that is out there in the community, we can, we're very good at switching gears and being able to adapt or create something to address that need, and then we're also agile in the way that we design our programs, meaning that we don't always have a clear-cut path from when a program starts to when it ends. Based on the success of various steps in the program, we can assess and say, "Oh this is working really well, so let's move in this direction," or "Hey, this part isn't working, so let's put that aside and try a different direction." The ability to be responsive and the ability to be agile is really important when thinking about designing programs like this.

Jim Heuer [00:06:33] Absolutely. I want to ask about the staffing and who is leading some of these courses. Did you have to go out into the community? Did you have members on staff? Did you have to do any special training? How do you go about teaching these courses?

Jack Martin [00:06:47] Both of these courses were the brainchild of Don Gregory, who is our Lead Technology Teacher, and he is actually a retired post-office worker, and he learned coding back in the 80s, and he has a real enthusiasm for it. He uses gamification techniques in his curriculum. Then we also have a Spanish-speaker on hand if we have someone who needs to hear the course in Spanish. We take those two approaches, but we do have…unlike most public libraries, we do actually have an education team here at Providence Public Library, and that's a mix of workers who have an MLIS degree, but also we have folks here with an education degree as well or enough education and classroom experience that were able to deliver those. We've been able to expand the program. We hire the successful graduates of our classes to actually lead those courses in other locations across the state, so that's been really terrific, so we've been able to bring on, I believe, four or five different part-time teachers to help these programs grow outside of the library walls. It's not just one person teaching them. We have four or five people teaching them across the state.

Jim Heuer [00:07:53] Are you going to branch out into more aspects of this technology of the learning? Are there different things besides the coding and the data navigation that you might be doing next, or have you kind of reached your full potential for this project?

Jack Martin [00:08:11] For these specific programs, like I said earlier, there's a high demand for them. What we'll look at is continuing to possibly expand what we can offer. We also were awarded an IMLS grant for basically propagating best practices in adult education in public libraries. The idea is to help educate the rest of the country on our successes in leading these kinds of programs and then helping other library systems across the state actually implement those, so that's a partnership with the Los Angeles Public Library, the Chicago Public Library, and the main library association. You'll see some dissemination around this work happening in the next year or so. In the meantime, we're always looking to see what's next out there on the horizon, and we have to keep our ears sort of really close to the ground, just sort of get that pulse on what the community is really needing right now. Two years ago, they really needed coding skills, and they still need coding skills, but what's to say in the next two years maybe everybody already has coding skills, or maybe everything is already so deeply embedded in the formal education system that public libraries don't have to swoop in and provide folks with these skills, they learn them already at class. We're looking always on the pulse. We're looking for the next big thing, and I don't know exactly what that is, but I know we'll recognize it when we see it.

Donna George [00:09:32] I'm glad that one of your next things is standardizing the information and making it available to other libraries. I know a lot of listeners are probably going to have their interest peaked about a program like this, so thank you in advance for getting ahead on both bits.

Jack Martin [00:09:46] Well actually we're not spreading it, we're not giving it to those two libraries. The three library systems all have unique adult education workshops that we are actually, we're combing efforts. We're going to be sharing those out with the greater library world across the country. For example, so Chicago Public Library and Providence Public Library, we've been working on a series of adult education programs called learning circles, where people come into the library and they all decide to learn something around a topic. We're going to be sharing best practice around learning circles, best practices around coding and data visualization, but also best practices around English as a second language as well, and workforce development. Hopefully, libraries, as a result of this, will see a really robust scale of resources that will be coming out soon.

Jim Heuer [00:10:33] That's great stuff. Look, we will do our part, right? We're going to air this, we'll Tweet out the information, we'll make some notes because I want to follow up with you in a little bit and see, maybe we'll do another episode with some of these different partnerships that you're working on, and we can help promote those as well.

Jack Martin [00:10:51] Sure.

Jim Heuer [00:10:52] But a lot of really good stuff going on there. That must be crazy.

Jack Martin [00:10:55] Yeah, yeah. Very proud. We actually had IMLS visit Rhode Island at the end of the summer, and they told us that whenever a public library comes to IMLS asking about information about education in public libraries, they send them to the Providence Public Library, so that's a real compliment for us.

Jim Heuer [00:11:12] Congratulations on the award! That's how they got a fantastic program. Thank you for giving up a bit of your lunch hour to spend some time with us and telling us about this. We will send this out, and hopefully you'll have a bunch of folks who call you up and say, "Jack, tell me how I can start this program in my library."

Jack Martin [00:11:32] Great. Thank you very much for reaching out and for arranging all of this. It's been a good conversation.

Jim Heuer [00:11:37] Alright. Thank you very much, Jack. We appreciate it. Take care.

Jack Martin [00:11:41] Okay, bye bye.

Jim Heuer [00:11:43] Two Librarians and A Microphone is brought to you by Ingram Library Services, it is a division of Ingram Content Group. Our producer/director is Rachel Cope, sound engineering by Craig Simpson, special assistance by Essence Brisco, and Elizabeth Wilcox. The research done by our librarians, Trisha Bengel and Donna George. I'm Jim Heuer, thanks most of all to you for listening. Please follow us on Instagram at @thelibrarylife, tag us in your #thelibrarylife moments, because we've got some cool stuff going on, on that social media platform. We're going to be giving away some exclusive books, ARCs, perhaps a signed copy. In order to make sure you're staying tuned to this podcast, we'd love for you to go to our landing page, but most importantly, the best way you can show your support for us, is we'd love some reviews on Apple iTunes. If you can go on there and leave us a positive review, that would really help. We'll see you in your libraries. Thanks everybody.




* Due to busy scheduled and not being able to interview Executive Director Jack Martin at the ULC annual conference, we connected with him afterwards over the phone. This podcast episode is unique in that it was recorded with conference call technology. Please forgive any sound or tech issues you may notice throughout the episode. Thanks for tuning in!