An Essay for LI 863 - Christie Brandau, Instructor

It is hard to think about the future of libraries when we are so busy working to serve our communities in the present.  If we aren't aware of future trends and how they might affect the life of our community, we won't be able to develop and deliver the services and programs our library community wants and needs.  Can we all be futurists or even library futurists?  No, but we can do some things to monitor current trends in society, scan for forecasts of the future, track what's new in libraries and nurture our own creativity and development.

Though most of us won't be futurists, we may learn something by thinking about what futurists do and know.  "Futurists help people manage their expectations about what’s next, including the smooth flow and the rocky obstacles. They operate from a mind-set that the future is not necessarily a direct extension from the past.  Through research, trending and forecasting methods they open many doors to consider alternative future scenarios...", says Marci Segal in her blog post, "What do futurists do and how to think like one." (July, 15, 2010. New Ideas. New Decisions, Creativity.)  For a peek at future forecasts from the World Future Society visit Marci Segal's top 20 forecasts 2011-2025Which of these forecasts are giving you ideas about possible future library services?

Michael Rogers puts it another way in his MSNBC column, The Practical Futurist, "What do futurists really know?" "But in the end, making lots of accurate predictions isn’t necessarily the job of the futurist. It’s more the act of stimulating creative thought about the future that, in turn, influences how we act today." (August 17, 2006, The Practical Futurist,  Creative thinking about the future influences our present behavior.  We can all think creatively, especially about our own library services and programs.  When we pair that with knowledge and understanding of the possible futures for our communities we can provide innovative and proactive library services.

Joan Frye Williams is a library futurist.  She partners with George Needham to provide regular podcasts that address the issues facing libraries now and in the future.  Williams recently visited Kansas and a tour through her slides will give you a taste of her views on library futures:

Another futurist who talks about the future of libraries is Thomas Frey,  A recent posting by Frey, "Where the Books Used to Be" (December 10, 2010, ponders a future where libraries transition from shelves full of books to devices delivering books and information on demand.  He considers the opportunities and challenges this future could mean for libraries.  If you've been watching library news lately you'll know that current decisions by some e-book publishers have created much discussion about the future of libraries.  If you need some updating read Bobbi Newman's, "Publishing Industry Forces OverDrive and Other Library eBook Vendors to Take a Giant Step Back."  (February 25, 2011, Librarian by Day).

So how do you find the information you need to think creatively about the future without making it a profession?  Here are the tips and tricks I have picked up from my library colleagues:

Whatever your chosen path, just remember to track the news, scan for future trends in libraries and in society, follow someone who sparks your creativity and continue your learning and development.  It will take all of us to guide libraries into the future no matter what it turns out to be.

Explore More:

America’s Libraries for the 21st Century: An Annotated Bibliography, ALA Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP)

COSLA: eBook Feasibility Study for Public Libraries, (June 30, 2010)

Frey, Thomas.  The Future of Libraries: Interview with Thomas Frey (July 20, 2010,

Interviews on the future of librarians

Maximize the Potential of Your Public Library (ICMA)  Read this!

Minnesota Library Futures Initiative

Williams, Joan Frye.  Top Tech Trends for the Non-Technical (An Infopeople webinar archive.)