Welcome to the Future—at Your Library

Innovation, libraries, and the future

March 6, 2015

Keith Michael Fiels

Last spring, a group of librarians and non­librarians gathered at the Library of Congress for a Summit on the Future of Libraries. The summit helped launch the new Center for the Future of Libraries and focused on some of the trends that may shape the world in which libraries will operate. But it also focused on how libraries can shape the future or, better still, offer it to our communities.

In other words, libraries need to be the community hub where people can come to see the new and ­exciting—to see the future. And by communities, I mean all the communities we serve as libraries: municipalities and counties, colleges and universities, elementary and secondary schools.

Libraries were once the place where community members gathered to experience the exotic, new, and exciting. A hundred years ago, the library was the place where people came to see the first magic-­lantern-show lectures or to look at 3D stereopticon slides of exotic destinations such as India and Egypt.

Today, e-content, 3D printers, video editing stations, and the newest devices and apps have replaced the magic lantern, but the dynamic remains the same. At the Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Public Library system, for example, library users who have never been near an art gallery can play with the Cleveland Museum of Art’s innovative, interactive Gallery One, which features the museum’s permanent collection on a 40-foot interactive multi-touchscreen wall.

 Libraries need to be the community hub where people can come to see the new and exciting-to see the future.  We need to be the place where the newest ideas are showcased.

We need to once again be the place where people come to see the new and exciting. We need to be the place where the newest ideas and technologies are showcased—in short, where people can experience the future. We need to attract those people in our community who are interested in innovation and the future. We need to reach out to and partner with organizations and groups committed to exploring and innovating. Why not partner with local tech firms and software developers to spotlight their new products and ideas? How can the library become an incubator for community innovation?

This has tremendous potential for our advocacy efforts. Study after study has found that many members of the public associate libraries with the past. We need to change that perception. And what better way to do that than a focus on the future?

For this reason, the work of the new Center for the Future of Libraries is as important to our ­advocacy efforts as it is to supporting the transformation of libraries. By helping to change perceptions about libraries, we are helping to build support for a new vision of transformed libraries for the information age.

The center’s new Trends Library is gathering information on societal and technological changes that will shape our future as libraries, from collective impact to robots to the “internet of things.” At the same time, the center is also exploring new and innovative ways we can work together.

It recently received a grant from the American Society of Association Executives Foundation to explore crowdsourcing’s usefulness in driving innovation, by creating a crowdsourcing space where members can propose innovative programs and services and fellow members can encourage, rank, and comment on the proposals. The goals include incubating and improving good ideas and providing broad-based support for innovators to launch their ideas within their communities.

The challenge for the Association, as for libraries, is to find new ways to recognize and stimulate innovation. More than ever, we need to be the place where people can not only think about the future but create it.


Courtney L. Young

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