Trend Thinking: Center for the Future of Libraries Helps Librarians Look Ahead for Improving Spaces and Services

By Figueroa, Miguel | American Libraries, March-April 2016 | Go to article overview

Trend Thinking: Center for the Future of Libraries Helps Librarians Look Ahead for Improving Spaces and Services


Figueroa, Miguel, American Libraries


A New Adults Advisory Board at the Kingston Frontenac (Ontario) Public Library brings together patrons ages 18-30 to offer insights for better serving this category of library user. Students at Furman University Library in Greenville, South Carolina, were invited to unplug and recharge during finals week in a quiet "Zen zone" with meditation pillows and coloring books. The new Brooke Point High School Library in Stafford, Virginia, recently introduced a makerspace, but it's the comfortable and flexible seating that has transformed the library into a vibrant place for work, study, hanging out, and relaxing.

These changes, as subtle or significant as they may be, represent libraries' continuing alignment with new trends and user needs. Whether it's emerging adulthood, the unplugged and maker movements, or the growing influence of fast casual restaurants, libraries are taking advantage of trends in the larger environment and putting them to work in their spaces, collections, and services.

This thinking has helped ALA's Center for the Future of Libraries focus its work on providing library professionals and community leaders with information resources and tools that will help them understand the trends reshaping their libraries and communities.

Thinking about trends helps library professionals make sense of the changes that are happening in their environments, align their work to users' current needs and expectations, and innovate services and programs so that libraries remain integral to the future of their communities.

At the center's website (ala.org/libraryofthefuture), a growing collection of trends helps library professionals quickly identify some key issues, how they are developing, and why they might matter for libraries. Over the past year, thousands of librarians have reviewed new trend entries on badging, fandom, gamification, haptic technology, resilience, and more.

This focus on trends is an obvious fit for library strategic planning, and there has been some very positive feedback about the center's value for those working in this area. Maureen Sullivan, an ALA past president and a consultant who frequently works on strategic planning for libraries, said, "The trends from ALA's Center for the Future of Libraries are an excellent resource for understanding the variety of societal and technological forces that need to be considered in planning the future of libraries. It is one of the first resources that I suggest for library leaders who are engaged in strategic planning. In working with libraries, the trends proved to be a very useful means for helping the staff and leadership understand more about the various forces to be considered when determining a set of focus areas for new strategic plans."

Beyond strategic planning, however, library professionals use the center's resources and trends in some interesting and inspiring ways. Collected below are highlights from a conversation with four librarians, each working in a unique setting and pursuing different goals, but using trends as a way to help envision their futures.

How have you incorporated some of the center's trends and trend thinking into your work?

GEORGIE DONOVAN: Given the day-to-day work that envelops many of us in academic libraries, it's virtually impossible to seize upon every new opportunity and put it to work in our libraries' systems and cultures. That's one reason I genuinely appreciate having the Center for the Future of Libraries site tracking trends related to our people, our clients, our faculty, and students.

I've gone through the Harwood Institute training with several colleagues as part of the Libraries Transforming Communities initiative, and the ideas and strategies I learned there were so important to me, but they have a unique application on a college campus where the student community changes over every four years. The center's trends really complement the Harwood "turning outward" approach and help me keep current with what communities might be thinking even as they quickly change. …

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