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IDEA WATCH: Far Beyond Makerspaces—Reinventing Libraries for the Future

By Carolyn Foote - Posted Nov 1, 2015
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In the winter of 2014, the American Library Association, backed by a grant from Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), founded the Center for the Future of Libraries, now spearheaded by Miguel A. Figueroa. The purpose of the organization is to track trends and create a clearinghouse for inspiring materials on the future of libraries.

As librarians, as we look to provide leadership in our schools and their evolution as institutions, we need to monitor trends that are impacting the learning and knowledge ecosphere in general.

The Center’s website ( is an excellent starting point, with a trend-tracking page, a blog, and a crowdsourced manual for the future of libraries that anyone can contribute to.

At an ALA presidential forum kicking off the Center, consultant Joan Frye Williams reminded participants to view libraries as an evolving, not fixed, entity. How can we cultivate the habits of mind that help shift our paradigms? How do we shift the paradigms of administrators and teachers we work with? There is a real need for more guidance—from workshops to webinars to materials for school librarians on the change process, growth mindsets, and how to live in constant innovation mode.

Follett’s Project Connect ( is endeavoring to develop materials for principals and other school leaders on what areas of expertise will be essential for librarians to have moving forward. (Caveat: I am a member of Project Connect’s planning group.) Additional efforts like this which are focused on providing leadership for librarians and other school professionals will play an important role in helping reshape libraries.

Societal trends impact schools, some quickly and some over time. The Center for the Future of Library’s Figueroa has identified current trends around topics such as space design, library usage, and technology’s impact on culture. One recent trend he explores is “Fast Casual,” a service trend popularized by quasi-fast food/sit down restaurants. With their blend of technology use for customers (apps, iPads at tables), and a more do-it-yourself casual feel, these spaces offer ideas even for school libraries. As Figueroa points out, “Fast casual has oriented consumers to more active and social spaces, where they can see people hanging out and enjoying the space. Empty lobbies, formal service counters, and other traditional features of library spaces may be at odds with fast casual experiences” (

Already embracing some of these ideas, many school libraries are moving toward check-out kiosks, self-check out, or smaller circulation desks as well as mobile furniture with plugs, etc., which align with these consumer trends.

As I wrote about in a previous Idea Watch column, the Internet of Things and wearable technologies will have increasingly apparent impacts on school libraries and schools in general. (See “Wear to Learn!?! Wearable Technology—Promises and Problems,” Internet@Schools , May/June 2015, pp. 12–13.)This will be an emerging trend over the next few years with implications for teacher training, digital citizenship questions, privacy issues, and an increasing digital divide. Librarians who are anticipating this movement can step into leadership roles, becoming informed about these devices and helping schools think ahead of time about their implications.

Libraries, of course, are constantly affected by ever-changing technology developments. For example, the deepening trend toward flipped classrooms is an area in which librarians can anticipate teacher needs in terms of equipment and training. As curriculum and organizational specialists, we can collect examples of effective flipped training to share with teachers. We can also consider how we can “flip” our instruction or book talks or advice for students. We can, like our ed-tech partners, lead in digital citizenship. As wearable devices become more prevalent and more information is collected about our students, we can step into our natural role as both guardians of student privacy and advocates for our students.

An obvious technology trend among teens is the interest they have in documenting their lives. Yet how often do libraries or schools take real advantage in helping students document their lives at school in a way that highlights their learning? Some librarians have tapped into that trend by having students do “shelfies.” But are there other ways we can set up places for students to celebrate and document their lives on social media?

Figueroa also identifies a trend on the opposite end of the spectrum—unplugged spaces. Libraries are uniquely positioned to become part of this trend, with their unique ability to create “unplugged” zones and to promote benefits of quiet spaces for reflection. As Figueroa points out, “Libraries may capitalize on users’ perceptions of libraries as quiet spaces, marketing at least some space in their buildings as places to unplug, concentrate, and focus. This may be a rebranding from 'quiet reading spaces' to 'unplug zones' or 'digital escape spaces' that capitalize on the trend's language.” This trend also converges, Figueroa comments, with the “slow” movement—slow, hand-cooked food, for example, has become a foodie trend. In any case, creating unplugged zones can also aid the school’s mission to help students manage digital overload and sets a positive model for students to recreate in their own lives outside of school.

Open Ed Resources

Another area that librarians can make significant contributions to is that of open educational resources (OER). While this has been a general trend in education for at least the last 5 years, in September 2015, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Ed Tech announced the creation of a position to oversee OER specifically for schools. Richard Culatta, director of the Office of Educational Technology, commented, “The use of openly-licensed resources not only allows states and districts to adapt and modify materials to meet student needs, but also frees up funding to support the transition to digital learning.”

What this means is that the focus on using free educational resources in schools will likely increase dramatically. Librarians are again uniquely positioned, with a critical eye, to help locate, recommend, and organize such materials for their districts. Figueroa concludes, “Librarians know that users will likely need support creating, organizing, managing, and accessing open resources responsibly and productively.” Similarly, students will need help and support utilizing these resources as well, and librarians can step in to offer assistance.


The culture of sharing is one that some wired teachers and school librarians have embraced. But are we really capitalizing on the language of that trend? How about branding ourselves as the “original” sharing economy? We were sharing before sharing was a trend, so why not use that in our publicity efforts?

Sharing is about sharing resources within and beyond the school walls. Some teachers are only beginning to venture into blogging or sharing resources online. Librarians have a great opportunity to continue to lead in professional development, helping teachers become bloggers or social media users, managing Pinterest pages of collections of materials for teachers, and sharing their own schools' stories. A further sharing trend I’ve noticed is sharing across institutions or within them. At the University of Texas’s new Center for Infectious Diseases, for example, the university has drawn together professors from across departments within the university into one school—the idea being that the more cross-pollination there is, the more quickly advances can be made. Public and school libraries can continue to share resources or support one another. What other entities can we as school librarians reach out to beyond our walls to share our mission with? And how can we help teachers within our own buildings share and partner together to better our students’ education?


Another trend we see both in restaurant offerings and YouTube is “fusion”—or mashups—which is what the sharing economy is all about. How can we fuse student services together to make something new and different? What mashups are possible within our own libraries? Can we fuse together physical fitness and libraries with a yoga station by the library door, which the elementary librarian at my school has done? Can we create book groups aimed at athletes or science students instead of literary book groups? Looking beyond the library, where can we “fuse” with other services outside the campus or school? How can we effectively fuse library, technology or other students services via our school websites? David Loertscher’s work on the Virtual Learning Commons provides leadership in thinking about how we could create central websites to provide multiple students services (including library services).


An increasingly prevalent consumer trend is personalized customer service. We can, for example, tailor content for each reader with personalized recommendations to books we share with students. We could take the idea of “If you read this, you might like…” to a new level. Barnes & Noble prints out “other books you might like” on customer receipts. Why can’t school library automation systems build in check-out receipt options like that, or email students with suggestions based on student opt-in profiles? Some online ebook services are doing this already.

Consumers have not only begun expecting personalization, there is a burgeoning trend in home delivery. In Austin, Texas, where I live, you can get food, groceries, and Amazon deliveries in an hour. Can we get ideas from this trend? How about tacking on delivery services for books students put on hold—not only letting students/teachers place holds on books but having aides deliver them to the classroom? How else can we deliver services more personally to our students and teachers who are increasingly expecting this in their personal lives?

Bento Book Boxes!

Or how about “sample boxes.” Makeup, snacks, and more can be delivered to your home in sample-sized portions. I know many libraries already do this by providing carts of books for classrooms for students to sample. But how could we tap into this “consumer” trend by “repackaging” this service—maybe a “snack pack” of books? A bento box of tech ideas?

Following trends is about much more than just “being cool.” It’s about how we present ourselves to our clients, and how we think about our institutions. Are libraries change agents—willing to examine their practices and constantly evolve? Are we responsive to the changes in the communities around us? Or are we institutions fixed in stone? Clearly, we should strive for the former in order to be relevant and central to our schools.

At the Summit for the Future of Libraries, futurist Thomas Frey spoke to the gathered attendees about the future. The future, he pointed out, is created by what we do in the present. If we want to create an enriched view of libraries in the future, we have to begin creating it today.

Contact Carolyn at

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