10 Tips for Tracking Trends: Libraries Can Stay Relevant to Their Users by Strategically Riding the Wave of Societal Trends

Article excerpt

As a public library director I spend a great deal of time searching out ways to keep my library relevant in today's fast-changing environment. I've found that one method is to keep myself current about societal trends and to strategize regularly about how my library might ride the wave of those trends to better serve the needs of the library's users. This article explains the steps that I go through to do this. It doesn't take long, it is invariably interesting, and I've consistently found that it produces results. As you work, keep in mind that your primary goal is to identify trends and evaluate them for implications they might have for your library. That will help keep you focused among the myriad of fascinating ideas that you will discover.

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(1) Identify potential sources of information for societal and library trend tracking. Trend tracking is now an entire profession in the world of business. There are people and companies that focus exclusively on tracking trends and defining their potential implications for businesses. Because this is a relatively new phenomenon, most of these trend trackers are internet-centered. They tend to share their information broadly and freely online with the goal of attracting business to them. This means that librarians can find a tremendous amount of trend-tracking information online, for free.

Go online and search for "trend tracking" or "cool hunting." You'll get a whole list of individuals and organizations that do this; in fact, you may be somewhat overwhelmed by the options. You need to do some evaluation of the websites you find to determine which ones will be useful and provide good information. I would look for sites that 1) have been in existence for more than 10 minutes, 2) have received positive reviews in well-known marketing or advertising journals (the equivalent of peer review in the world of marketing), and 3) provide a great deal of free information--otherwise, what's the point? (To see eight recent trends our library spotted, go to the "Trends in Action" sidebar on page 46.)

I generally try to find sites that provide general rather than specific information. For example, I'm less interested in specific trends in the car industry, but I'm very interested in trends that involve marketing to baby boomers. The more general the trend, the easier it is for me to determine its implications for what I do in the library. To help you get started check out trendwatching.com, Cool Hunting, The Cool Hunter, and Tomorrow's Trends--all great sources of information.

(2) Develop a method for regularly reviewing those resources. I block out an hour every Friday morning to sit down and go through my trend tracking. I try to hold that hour on my schedule, no matter what. I start by going through the new information on each site, scanning for content that grabs my attention. If something is particularly interesting or seems like it could have direct and immediate relevance to the library, I'll do some additional, general searches on my own through common business resources (Advertising Age, Business Week, Business Source Premier) to see if I can find more information.

I spend a total of about 20 minutes reviewing, reading, and researching, and then I write down each idea in two to three words (to be used in the next step), along with a few additional sentences to summarize the basic concept and the source for that information. (I always track this so that if I need to refer back to the source I know where to find it quickly.) I usually spend about 10 minutes doing this, so I don't spend more than two or three minutes per idea. If I come up with 10 ideas in a session, I'm very happy.

(3) Search social networking sites. I spend another 10 minutes using the two to three keywords I identified above to search social network sites like Twitter and Facebook to see if anything of interest pops up. …