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Volunteering and video game design with Bob Ellis  

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BobEllisVideo Game Design Club at the Nederland Library

By Geneva Mixon

The Nederland Community Library (NCL) relies heavily on a committed community of volunteers to help with circulation and to assist with programming and special events.

Bob Ellis is one of our dedicated volunteers. He has been working at NCL for about three years. Bob assists the library in two ways. He works a 3-hour circulation shift on Monday mornings, and he also leads our monthly Video Game Design club for area kids.

I sat down with Bob, a retired computer programmer, after a busy Video Game Design Club meeting to learn a little more about him and to learn what inspires him to dedicate his time to NCL.

Bob says he started volunteering at NCL a few years into his retirement. After a while he began to feel at loose ends for connecting with other people. He thought the library would be a good place to meet and share with others in the community, and he recognized there was a lot he could do to help the library at the same time.

Monday mornings are a busy shift. The first task of Bob’s routine is emptying the book drop, which is usually quite full since the library is closed on Sundays. Bob gets to work straight away getting the books checked in, cleaned, and put back on the shelf for the next patron.

“An interesting thing about NCL is that they clean every book that comes in”, says Bob. “Compared to books we have to return to other libraries, well our books are much, much cleaner and it is really surprising.”

Bob recognizes that his help at the circulation desk is a truly winning situation for NCL. Bob says, “Volunteers help with some of the more routine aspects of running the library, which is really great for staff as this frees them up to do ‘real librarian work.’”

In addition to working at the circulation desk once a week, Bob also runs a monthly program for kids at the library. “The club is for kids interested in computer games, but we don’t teach them how to play the games; we teach them how to build them. We call the club Video Game Design, and [we] use a program that is available for free on the web by MIT called Scratch (www.scratch.mit.edu). Scratch is a wonderful drag and drop program. You can put the pieces together like Legos, yet it is a programming language,” Bob explains.

He goes on to say, “It is amazing how wonderful the kids are at picking it up quickly. Together we can make simple games like Pong, or maze games. One-day Geneva picked about a dozen kids up from the bus stop, and I was amazed at how quickly they picked it up and started making their own games. Even better they actually left with a solid understanding of what we had done.

Bob tells us that Video Game Design is a really nice addition to library programs, and it led him to begin helping Nederland Middle School instructor, Ms. Heather Peloti, with her 6th graders. We have been teaching them Scratch, and doing some electronics work using Arduinos. The session will end with robots.

“It is tremendous fun to watch these kid learn [the Scratch program], imagine a project, and then come up with wonderful ideas of how to solve problems and achieve their vision, this is all done by the kids with just a little help from adults. I love watching their brains light up and to hear them start saying, oh that is easy, look what we can do.”

All of this great work with kids began shortly after Bob helped NCL host an event during the “Hour of Code” in December 2013. The Hour of Code is a nation-wide initiative to get kids excited about, and expose them to, computer programming and coding. Computers are destined to be a huge part of these kids’ future.

Bob says, “It is one thing to be able to use a computer, but when kids realize there is potential for the computer to be programmed, well the deepening of understanding can be huge for them and for their future. So my first goal is for them to understand that coding is possible, but the big joy is watching these kids pick it up. Maybe this is a path for the kid who says, I want to work for Google one day. Maybe this is a first step.”

Bob Ellis is a tremendous asset to NCL.

The library has regular volunteer opportunities for teens and adults, whether it be helping with circulation or sharing your passion as a community group leader. If you’re interested in volunteering, stop by the circulation desk to fill out a volunteer application or call 303-258-1101.

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