As society faces what many now call the Anthropocene age, the impacts of climate change and humankind’s role in it will influence, literally, everything.
Last year, our library director brought a futurist to meet with the Board of Trustees to help us better understand the future of the library. I vividly remember the first point in his presentation: the vast majority of services the library will provide will stay the same. One question he didn’t address was our future as trustees. It never occurred to any of us to ask. After all, someone has to set policies, advocate for the library and budget, hire the director, and be responsible to the public. However, just as libraries themselves will undergo significant changes, so will boards.
I’ve been working hard to ensure libraries understand that sustainability involves far more than “going green.” Embracing the Triple Bottom Line definition of sustainability helps libraries think holistically about the environmental, economic, and social aspects of their library and community. Nonetheless, libraries have a lot of work to do on the “going green” side of things.
The average American life cycle has changed dramatically in recent decades–people are marrying later, waiting to have children, and living longer. This presents interesting challenges to health-care professionals—how can medical practice keep up and help people live healthfully throughout every stage of their lives? Frank Maletz, an orthopedic surgeon in New London, CT, established the Healthspital foundation, which explores ways to overhaul health care in America.
The trend of circulating “stuff” other than books and DVDs is not new, but a few libraries have begun to embrace it more fully. For example, the “Library of Things” at Hillsboro Public Library, OR—inspired partly by tool libraries like Berkeley’s and the Library of Things at Sacramento Public Library, CA—offers patrons access to musical instruments, tools such as infrared thermometers and thermal leak detectors, gold panning kits, bakeware and kitchen appliances, karaoke machines, and even commercial-grade popcorn and cotton candy machines.
“We have to focus on a deeper understanding of the relational nature of learning” says Brigid Barron, associate professor at the school of education at California’s Stanford University. A faculty colead of the Learning in Informal and Formal Environments (LIFE) center, Barron and her colleagues explore the importance of social learning environments through the National Science Foundation–funded project.
The modern library movement began in 1876, a year that saw the birth of both the American Library Association (ALA) and Library Journal (LJ). The January 1, 1976, issue of LJ celebrated that centennial, asking 25 experts and leading librarians to project the future of libraries over the next 25–50 years. Now on LJ’s 140th anniversary, we’ve taken a sampling of those forecasts and briefly assessed their accuracy. The result is evidence of how inadequate current knowledge is to predict the future.
In the next five to ten years, says Susan Shaheen, codirector of the Institute of Transportation Studies’ Transportation Sustainability Research Center, “advanced technologies and big data will enable us to better understand and manage our transportation ecosystems,” particularly automation and car- and ride-sharing tech. “This will enable us to provide more equitable, affordable, safe, efficient, and environmentally friendly transportation.”
Often expressed informally through back channels, there’s a strong contrarian strand of thought that holds librarianship—if not all of American society—spends too much time, energy, and ink trying to predict what’s next. Too great a focus on the future, say such skeptics, shortchanges the present, preventing practitioners from being “in the moment,” and can make library leaders devalue the work that still comprises the vast majority of interactions to chase trends that appeal to, at best, a much smaller subset of users.