February 2016 | Volume XXXIV, Issue 1 »

Not One, But Many, Futures

January 25, 2016
Amy Crump, Homewood Public Library

 In December, ATLAS (Area Training for Librarians and Staff) held its annual staff in-service day, and it gave me the opportunity to hear Miguel Figueroa from the ALA’s Center for the Future of Libraries. Launched in 2014, the center works to:

  • Identify emerging trends relevant to libraries and the communities they serve,
  • Promote futuring and innovation techniques to help librarians and library professionals shape their future,
  • Build connections with experts and innovative thinkers to help libraries address emerging issues

Figueroa’s presentation shared a perspective that the future is not one but many and informed us that there are “three things that drive trends: basic needs, drivers of change, and innovations.”

The center’s website organizes trends into seven categories: Society, Technology, Education, Environment, Politics (and Government), Economics, and Demographics (STEEPED). And within those seven categories, the center currently identifies twenty-three trends, explaining how the trend is developing, why it matters to libraries, and providing notes/resources. Figueroa focused on several of the trend’s in his talk, and I was fascinated by two in particular: emerging adulthood and the sharing economy, especially because of the way that they are intertwined.

Within the emerging adult demographic, many twenty-somethings are delaying the traditional steps into adulthood: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying, and having a child. Both publishing trends and further study into this development stage are opportunities for libraries. Figueroa reminded us that traditionally parents of young children return to the public library as a resource for the child and are frequently re-introduced to the resources available to them.

If emerging adults are either delaying or not choosing parenthood as an option, how can libraries keep their interest? If libraries fail to do this, what is the impact on support for public libraries? Other trends can actually help libraries figure this out, such as “fandom,” which the site identifies as a community of people who are passionate about something.

The sharing economy, according to the center’s website, is a broad term used for activities conducted by non-profits, community-based organizations, or governments for the benefit of communities or by for-profit business creating services rooted in a concept of sharing, such as Airbnb, Lyft, or Uber. One of Figueroa’s slides read: “Libraries: Sharing before sharing was cool.” He pointed out how many public libraries have (and still are) making unique collections available to the communities they serve, which ties in nicely with the sharing economy. But simply having something to share is not enough to be cool. Figueroa provided plenty of examples of how the sharing economy is more than sharing resources—it’s about the experience. For public libraries, Figueroa put it very simply, “Sharing + Technology = Experience.” (see article on page 21.)

That experience is what people are looking for, whether they are emerging adults in the sharing economy or some of our more historically traditional patrons. Paying attention to these trends can create opportunities for public libraries to provide that experience. After listening to Figueroa, I made a commitment to spend the first fifteen minutes of each day either visiting the center’s website to learn more about trends or to read his blog. I want to create the space (with thanks to one of this year’s conference speakers, Beck Tench) to contemplate how my library can create several futures for the entire community. Go take a look for yourself at www.ala.org/transforminglibraries/future.

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