Optimistic, that’s how I feel about libraries. That’s how I feel about where they are headed in their important work of feeding the hearts and minds of people of all ages in our increasingly global society. Every day, libraries fuel a better future. Every day, library leaders are tweaking, inventing, and revamping services. They do so in reaction to various pressures and opportunities, in response to evolving patron needs, and in anticipation of change on the horizon. When supported by an organization that enables creative solutions, the results are phenomenal.
Hence this issue of LJ. It was conceived over quick sandwiches in the little café at the Boston Public Library during the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting. There, Brian Bannon, commissioner of the Chicago Public Library, and I talked design thinking, which I prefer to call human-centered design; how far it had come in transforming the ways we think about our libraries; and how its library application in real terms has matured.
A deep dive into the current state of human-centered design aligned with a project already under way to celebrate the 140th anniversary of LJ itself. Created under the editorship of Melvil Dewey in 1876, the same year that he and others founded ALA, LJ has always been about a stronger future for libraries. Over the years, we’ve honored our history. Now, at 140, we are looking forward, to help libraries anticipate what’s ahead.
How we manage our libraries should be anchored by strategic insight into dealing with the inevitable, unpredictable changes to come and by creating more flexible, responsive organizations that are laser focused on those we serve. How human-centered design, one sophisticated approach, is being put to work by libraries large and small is the crux of Lisa Peet’s The Future of Futures. Not everyone buys into this stuff but getting widespread engagement is key, so LJ’s Meredith Schwartz reflects on how to cope with future fatigue. We also, fittingly, give a nod to our history, with John Berry’s fact-check of some of the prognostications made in our 100th anniversary issue (“Predicting the Unpredictable”).
This moment dovetails with a significant transition for LJ itself—the arrival last fall of a new publisher, David Greenough, and the infusion of energy toward the next step in the evolution of the brand, print and digital. In a timely conversation last winter, Multnomah County Library’s Vailey Oehlke asked me for both a more beautiful LJ and one focused on bringing ideas from beyond libraries. That urging helped us hit refresh on the design of LJ itself—last revisited in 2004. This effort, spearheaded by design director Kevin Henegan, can be seen throughout the opening sections of the journal. Significantly, you’ll notice a new News+ section, with special thanks to LJ art director Irving Cumberbatch. It will feature many things to advance your professional learning and, we hope, pleasure, anchored by news and complemented by perspectives from the field, announcements, and more. Also under construction: the reviews sections. There’s more in the works as we continue to iterate.
And it doesn’t stop with print. An online extension of Designing the Future gathers this and creates a destination for other related coverage, both to come and mined from our archives. This includes videos of library leaders expressing some of their visions on priorities, current and future; downloadable PDFs of ten coming trends; and a master reading list of accompanying titles compiled by LJ’s reviews team. This diversified approach to getting you the information you need signals where LJ is heading digitally as well as on paper. We hope you find it useful and welcome your feedback.
We at LJ have a healthy respect for the human-centered design process, having covered it over the years, dipped a toe in it at past Directors’ Summits, and most recently begun to explore it for our own organization as we think about how we serve each of you. We have confronted some of our own legacy fatigue and come to recognize the value of an intent focus forward—as it forces us out of the daily constraints that can blinker us and hamper innovation. We are in many senses just starting to build our capacity to embrace human-centered design, but we are hopeful about what it will help us bring to you. That’s a worthy way to celebrate a 140th anniversary.