The theme was “Creating the Future Now” based on the premise that “there are many futures, not just one.” Figueroa provided a contextual overview on research surrounding “futurism” and the applied research to libraries. The presentation was empowering, and gives us all a framework to reconsider our practice and plan a path forward in the quickly changing information and educational environment.
Defining the future
Dr. Peter Bishop is a futurist who establishes a historical context for change, beginning with Herodotus who was the first to chronicle history, to today and the current environment of accelerating change. His conference slides are a wonderful, concise resource for reviewing the concept of futurism and can be found here (Bishop, 2007).
Some of the driving questions posed by Bishop focus on the concept of “strategic foresight” which can be defined as an approach that encourages “a shift from focusing on the day-to-day operational considerations of management to the longer-term transformative dimensions of leadership, introducing broader systematic and transdisciplinarian perspectives and solutions” (Greve, 2015). In short, planning ahead. But it is how we plan ahead that can make the difference.
Bishop offers the cone of plausibility as a way of connecting to any possible future that can help us base change in the present.
- The Expected future
- Where we are headed
- The future if everything continues as it is
- The result of conditions and trends (momentum)
- Where we are headed
- The Alternative Futures
- What might happen instead
- The set of plausible futures if something less likely or unexpected happens
- The result of events and issues (contingencies)
- What might happen instead
- The Preferred Future(s)
- What we want to happen
- Either the expected or any of the alternative futures that is preferable
- The result of our vision, goals, plans and actions (agency)
- What we want to happen
Another futurist, Marsha Lynne Rhea, focuses on applying this anticipation to empower schools to advocate for their preferred change. By anticipating the change we want it is possible to shape that future. Rhea asks three guiding questions:
- What are key forces that are shaping the future?
- What might be their possible outcomes?
- What implications could they have for learning and actions that must happen in the present?
By actively creating for a positive future it is possible to avoid a negative future. In other words, we can’t know the future, but we can influence the future.
There is a well-founded skepticism toward trends because they can be costly and if they aren’t truly serving a community need they are a distraction to the organizational mission. “It is important to consider the values of our communities and constituents in order to avoid being trendy” (Figueroa, 2016). An example is the installation of 3D printers in libraries. Many libraries followed the trend but did not implement/deploy based on the values of their community. Figueroa described a scenario where a 3D printer was purchased by a public library, announced with great fanfare, and was then housed in a low-traffic area and was regarded as a waste of funds. The chuckles among the conference attendees suggests that this was a familiar scenario, and illustrated the disconnect between vision and community values. It is worth the time to question and explore the values of our school communities to better evaluate the potential impact of our goals for the future. Some of the trends presented as examples for consideration were:
- Changing community partners and conversations
- Connected toys - Furbies/Hello Barbie - Wi-Fi enabled toys run with an algorithm to process dialog and respond to child. There are ethical implications for vulnerable child populations. Libraries need to poke this innovation/trend against our values.
- Fast casual trends – restaurant themes for information spaces with flexible seating, diverse activities, tech enabled spaces, increasingly customized to neighborhoods. Maximizing 3rd space that used to be dominated by libraries
- Fandom – build in communities that actively engage in reviews and fan-based community.
- The learning commons model - is it working? What might it look like five years from now? What would we like it to look like five years from now? What does our community think it could look like five years from now?
- Information literacy - fake news! Reinvigorating our curriculum and assessing the reasons fake news took so many by surprise, so quickly. This includes reviewing our longstanding Web 2.0 and media production curricula, and forecasting a vision for the future.
- Library as a 3rd space - We are in competition with the fast/casual trend in coffee shops, bookstores, and lots of other spaces that want to lure people in and turn them into customers. How will our school libraries respond and compete and also hold onto our mission? Flexible use of space and the freedom to customize as needed should already be changing in our practice and facility planning. Where will we be in five years? Perhaps, with the abundance of causal 3rd spaces in our general communities we will see a return to a more traditionally academic version of the library that is more inline with an “unplugged zone.” (An important caveat to the discussion of trends is that they should be evaluated in context to the reasoning behind them. An example is the fact/casual furniture trend, and the reason behind it is a customizable patron experience. If it is of value to the local community and institution then it is a solution and not a trend. )
- Makerspaces - is it working? What might it look like five years from now? What would we like it to look like five years from now? What does our community think it could look like five years from now?
- Collection development - what does our data tell us? What is the current role of print? How are our digital sources being utilized? How does the library collection inform and/or support curriculum? Differentiation? ELL and IEP/504 plans? Where is the growth? What might it look like?
Asking the questions, reviewing our data, and engaging with our community to articulate the real values that drive our schools can help us project needs and growth. In this way we can also avoid the trends that can sap resources and undermine the confidence we have built with our administrators and colleagues as we chart a future for our students and schools.
Recognizing and nurturing innovation
Innovation is comprised of specific components:
- Creativity – process of coming up with new ideas
- Innovation – the process of implementing new ideas into useful solutions.
- Curiosity – the process of exploration, investigation, and learning by observation
Curiosity fuels creativity and innovation. Scanning our environment, collecting information, and staying attuned with our school community create the conditions for a future-ready mindset. This is where we can begin to see the future we want.
Within this curiosity-based landscape there are 10 “learning personas.” It is important to recognize ourselves, as well as our colleagues and school leaders in these personas, because they can be strategic partners (Kelley and Littman, 2005).
Individuals and organizations need to constantly gather new sources of information in order to expand their knowledge and grow, so the first three personas are learning roles. These personas are driven by the idea that no matter how successful a company currently is, no one can afford to be complacent. The world is changing at an accelerated pace, and today's great idea may be tomorrow's anachronism. The learning roles help keep your team from becoming too internally focused, and remind the organization not to be so smug about what you “know”. People who adopt the learning roles are humble enough to question their own worldview, and in doing so they remain open to new insights every day.
- Anthropologist – observational learning
- Experimenter – prototypes new ideas
- Cross-pollinator – explores other industries and cultures
- Hurdler – overcomes roadblocks
- Collaborator – brings together different groups
- Director – gathers the talented team
- Experience architect – design compelling experiences
- Set designer – creates the stage to display the innovation
- Caregiver – supports patrons in innovation experience
- Storyteller – documents the success stories with public and within organization
Each of these “learning personas” have unique skills and creative talents that can be enlisted to reach our goals for the future. With data, collections of ideas, and a vision based in community values, it is possible to implement meaningful innovation and forecast the future and the role of school libraries and student learning in that future.
Build it and they will come
So much of the futurist theory feels familiar. It is certainly reminiscent of Amy Cuddy’s TEDTalk Fake it until you make it:
For further information
Subscribe to Miguel Figueroa’s weekly wrap-up from ALA’s Library of the Future .
To really delve into futurism, watch Dr. Jane McGonigal’s SXSWedu keynote How to think and learn like a futurist:
Conference on Anticipation. Retrieved from http://www.projectanticipation.org/attachments/article/95/Bishop.pdf
Cornish, E. (2005). Futuring: The exploration of the future. Bethesda, Md.: World Future Society.
Greve, N. (Ed.). (2015, December 4). Futurist advocates for ‘strategic foresight’ in corporate planning (2015). Retrieved
January 17, 2017, from Metafuture website: http://www.metafuture.org/2015/12/06/futurist-advocates-for-strategic
Kelley, T. (2005). The ten faces of innovation. Retrieved January 17, 2017, from The ten faces of innovation. website:
Rhea, M. L. (2005). Anticipate the world you want: Learning for alternative futures. Lanham, Md: ScarecrowEducation.
SXSWEdu. (2016, March 9). Jane McGonigal SXSWedu Keynote How to think (and learn) like a futurist [Video file].
Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CKvMmtclUBA
TED Talk. (2016, July 7). Amy Cuddy TED Talk - Fake it till You make it [Video file]. Retrieved from