February 16, 2018

Best Guesses: A Q&A with Center for the Future of Libraries’ Miguel Figueroa

MiguelFigueroa HeadshotLast year, the American Library Association (ALA), working with the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), established the new Center for the Future of Libraries (CFFL), a new program envisioned as a way to keep libraries ahead of the curve as they prepare for what’s to come in the industry—whatever that might be. That lack of certainty isn’t daunting the center’s new director, Miguel Figueroa. A 2005 LJ Mover and Shaker and former director of the ALA’s Office for Diversity and Office for Literacy and Outreach Services who most recently worked with the American Theological Library Association, Figueroa talked with LJ about what the future might hold for libraries and how librarians can be ready for anything.

LJ: You’ve been at ALA in different points previously in your career. How’s it feel being back?

Miguel Figueroa: I’m looking forward to talking with ALA members regularly again, which I’ve really missed. We’ll be reaching out to people who aren’t in the library world, but ALA membership is where the CFFL will find a lot of the questions we’re going to be asking going forward, and a lot of the answers as well.

What made this the right position for you right now?

It felt like an opportunity to think broadly about libraries, which is something I enjoy doing, and come back to a place that was interested in doing different things and new things, which is what ALA has always been about. The position is a nice combination of developing resources, doing research, and compiling it in a way that is valuable for our profession. I look forward to the opportunity to develop more educational resources and programs so that we can all develop skills that will serve us in preparing for the future.

Obviously, an uncertain future is something libraries aren’t going to be able to prepare for perfectly. What steps can librarians take to be more prepared for whatever the future holds?

It can be hard for any organization that’s trying to work in the here and now and also move forward. I think the traditional methods are the things we’re familiar with, like trend monitoring, are helpful, but some groups are also doing scenario planning, challenging themselves to consider different futures and work back from them. One key will be focusing on very deliberate brainstorming that values and builds on other people’s ideas. That means the more ideas we have, the better. Trying to be inclusive will help us get a stronger base of thoughts and perspectives we can use to develop new services and models.

How will you work with the IMLS, which was integral in the founding of both the CFFL and the Center for the Future of Museums (CFFM), which began in 2008?

There will be a lot of opportunities for us to work together, because as cultural institutions, we share a lot of the same environment and will be impacted by the same trends. ILMS sees a lot of potential in the CFFM and CFFL, and I’m looking forward to working with them.

The CFFL is going to be operating across all different kinds of libraries. What are lessons you think that different types of libraries (public, academic, special) can take from one another and strengths they bring to the table in shaping the future of libraries?

These are things that will ripple throughout our society, and as we see them in a library setting, we’ll start to put the connections together. We share many of the same values, but have very different cultures and tasks and areas of service. One of the things Barbara Stripling worked to do during her tenure was setup the Futures Summit, which brought together many stakeholders and perspectives. Obviously, some trends will affect some types of libraries more than others, but there are also broad trends that will trickle up through all libraries, such as demographic changes. That’s where there is a lot of room for collaboration and work across different kinds of libraries.

Where do you see the most opportunity in the future of libraries? What do you foresee as the biggest challenge?

That’s hard to say. Predictions are difficult for any industry, but librarians are especially used to working with finished products. We don’t embrace best guesses or work well with fragments of information.

We’re moving from content consumers to content creators. The sense of who is an authority has changed in the last decade, and that will continue to have a significant change on the types of users, and how we supply them with information and serve them. Things like Maker spaces and media centers are responding, but we can only imagine how significant that is going to get.

People’s perception of research has also changed drastically in recent years. There’s a change in the idea of how willing and likely users are to visit libraries as a first source of research, and that’s going to continue. We need to try and anticipate and shape how the library is going to continue to be a go to source for information that is increasingly provided electronically.

Ian Chant About Ian Chant

Ian Chant is a former editor at LJ and a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Scientific American and Popular Mechanics and on NPR.

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