The American Library Association began its 2017 annual conference with a reception at Google’s Chicago office on Thursday to celebrate a new $500,000 competitive grant program, sponsored by Google, to encourage computer skills in America’s libraries.

The grants are the latest phase in the ALA’s “Libraries Ready to Code” program, and will support as many as 50 participating libraries, which will receive funding from the ALA along with consulting expertise and operational support from Google to create on a library-based CS (computer science) educational toolkit. The toolkit will feature resources to help libraries offer CS programming and education for youth, and is scheduled to be released in conjunction with National Library Week, in April 2018.

Launched in 2016, the "Libraries Ready to Code" program is an ongoing collaboration between ALA and Google. Now in its third phase, it seeks to ensure expert library professionals are prepared to “develop and deliver programming that promotes computer science (CS) and computational thinking (CT)” among the nation’s youth.

Announcing the grants, Jessie "Chuy" Chavez said Google was excited to partner with ALA on the program, which is aimed at preparing public libraries to teach "not just computer science, but computational thinking." He said libraries were the perfect partners.

"We don't need everyone to be an expert programmer to teach and motivate kids to seek coding as a career, or even to see it as as an option," Chavez said. "But we see too often when kids reach middle school age and they've already self-selected out of coding, even though they've never really been exposed to it, much less encouraged."

“All kids benefit from coding activities, not only those planning to work in technology-specific fields,” said Marijke Visser, associate director of the ALA's Office of Information and Technology Policy, and Libraries Ready to Code project manager. “The [computational thinking] skills youth develop through coding activities prepare kids for success no matter where they head when they leave high school. Ready to Code librarians help kids connect their interests to learning opportunities in college or to careers they may not have even considered, especially for youth from diverse backgrounds.”

The announcement came on the eve of the ALA's conference, which will feature multiple sessions on coding, and the "Libraries Ready to Code" program.

The official conference kicks off Friday afternoon with a keynote by Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of the national nonprofit Girls Who Code and author of the forthcoming Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World (Viking), which aims to show girls age 10 and older how coding skills are relevant to their lives, and inspire them to create their own apps, games, and robots.

Since 2012, the Girls Who Code movement has taught computing skills to more than 10,000 girls across America, with a goal of reaching one million young women by 2020.