This entry is well overdue (not a library pun, just a statement of fact), both because TrendsWatch was released in February and because I’ve been behind in sharing these posts. But even with timely trends, better late than never.
Those who have been following the development of the Center for the Future of Libraries know that we owe a huge debt of thanks to the American Alliance of Museums’ Center for the Future of Museums and its founding director, Elizabeth Merritt. Elizabeth has helped me model my work and has provided an aspirational model for what the Center for the Future of Libraries might become.
If you aren’t already following the Center for the Future of Museums on twitter, receiving their Dispatches from the Future of Museums e-newsletter, or checking in on their blog, I would encourage you to do so. There’s a wealth of information relevant and applicable to our own library and information environments. One of the most interesting and eagerly anticipated resources from the Center for the Future of Museums is their annual TrendsWatch report. Each TrendsWatch brings together some of the most significant trends influencing museums and their communities based on the scanning and analysis that the Center’s staff does every year.
In addition to top trends, the report often provides great insight into the process of trend scanning. This year's introduction highlights the interrelatedness of many trends. For example, 2015’s slow culture trend shares some origins with the Disconnect to Reconnect trend featured in the 2013 report. I’ve definitely started to recognize this interrelatedness in my own recent work compiling trends. And a similar insight was featured in TrendWatching.com’s “10 Trends for 2015” report, which included a reminder of the counter-trends that build strength in the shadow of more popular trends.
In reviewing TrendsWatch’s six trends for 2015, it's helpful to see how these trends will or already have found their way into libraries. It's also worthwhile to note how some of the example museum programs are working within these trends to better serve communities. Some highlights from the report, through a library lens:
The ‘Open’ Economy brings together several movements – open source, open software, open government – under a single trend focused on opening content to the masses. The emphasis here is on access to data that might empower individuals in their own lives as well as in their roles as citizens and entrepreneurs. Librarians certainly appreciate “open” and we’ve been supporting open access models for journals, monographs, and educational resources – and have made significant strides engaging policy makers and advocates around this issue – for several years. Librarians know that users will likely need support creating, organizing, managing, and accessing open resources responsibly and productively. We’re also grappling with issues of cost, including infrastructure and trained professionals to support the open environment. Open data might be a particular challenge for libraries balancing our desire for open with our commitment to privacy. There will need to be some amount of institutional reflection, including an auditing of data-gathering opportunities for libraries and determination of what data might prove valuable and what might need to be protected.
Ethical Everything picks up a line of thinking in several recent reports, including TrendWatching.com’s report highlighting “brand stands.” Put simply, individuals are more and more interested in, aware of, and influenced by organizations’ and companies’ ethical, social, and political positions. TrendsWatch illustrates this through examples from the fashion and retail industry, food consumption, and even amusement parks. As with many trends, this heightened attention and focus is made possible by improvements in technology and communication, where social media can engage individuals around specific issues and where companies and organizations find themselves in direct engagement with users. This trend may lead companies and organizations to spend more time and energy managing their reputations and working to engage users in positive interactions. A real challenge, though, may be that organizations, even non-profits, will have to become more and more accustomed to not being able to please everyone. Values are diverse and changing and what pleases one group may not please another. Libraries may already be accustomed to some of this, but it will likely only become more important to the public work that we do.
All of the data referenced in The ‘Open’ Economy trend drives another development towards mass personalization. It’s Personal highlights the trend towards cheap, easy, and expected personalization that has been brought about by technology. Retailers are finding new ways to offer affordable, customized products like jeans and ear buds. Search engines and content providers (Netflix, Pandora, etc.) are able to leverage data to customize results to personal interests and preferences. Service providers are promoting one-on-one, tiered, or even customized experiences (research libraries’ personalized search services are mentioned). These latter examples may raise concerns for libraries and librarians. Do customized or promoted search results limit opportunities for discovery? Does the data that drives these customizations infringe on users’ rights to privacy and freedom of thought? What happens to equitable access in tiered or personalized service models? These are all issues that will have to be considered as this trend continues to grow.
Climate change – change in water levels, in particular – is front and center in A Rising Tide. As institutions that are “in it for the long haul,” climate change will shape the future of museums and libraries. There’s concern for the location of cultural institutions in areas that are now vulnerable to sea level rise and storms of increased severity and frequency; for high-density communities that live in those areas; and for the increased demands on cities and states to plan for and contend with climate change. Improving infrastructure to withstand storms and flooding is one direction that this trend is moving us. Resilience – which focuses on people’s and systems’ ability to recover quickly from disaster – is another. The implications for libraries and museums are similar – carefully considering our investments in building and infrastructure, finding our roles in helping people and networks become better able to recover from disaster, and aligning our preservation and access strategies to contend with an environment that might quickly and decisively threaten our collections.
Wearable Tech seems to underlie several of the trends that have been mentioned in the past several months, driving the data collection that powers The ‘Open’ Economy identified within this issue of TrendsWatch as well as the mobile payments and decisions identified in Skift’s and TrendWatching.com’s recent reports. TrendsWatch re-asserts wearables’ primary values as “seamless integration, invisibility, and blending technology into everyday life” but also makes an important point: “what the technology does is all over the map.” And this may be a key challenge for understanding this trend right now. Given the range of products and functions, it’s difficult to determine how exactly these products will affect libraries and museums. There should be concerns for privacy, increased data collection, planned obsolescence, user training and support, and increasing divides between the haves and have nots. But there could also be opportunities like improved accessibility, increased productivity and self-improvement, experiential enhancements, and new opportunities for connection and engagement. There’s an argument to be made for a wait-and-see approach, but given the dramatic increase and range in wearables, it might also be a time for experimentation and engagement with users.
If wearables and personalization will help make our experiences more tailored, efficient, and productive then is it safe to assume that the future will be a generally faster pace of life than what we are currently experiencing? Perhaps. But working against those trends are counter-trends, including the Slooow trend identified in TrendsWatch. Slow food, slow travel, slow reading, slow art, and other slow categories encourage individuals to take time to reflect and value the experiences they are having. This movement toward slow may encourage libraries to re-invest in some of the traditional perceptions of our institution – time and space for quiet, focused study and learning – but it’s also important to consider the social aspects of the slow movement. The trend's current direction brings people together around slow experiences, seeing how slowing down might help us make time for each other and build community. Libraries might be ideally equipped for these types of activities, but there's a trick to bringing these together.
Since first scanning through TrendsWatch in February to get that first look, I have come back to each trend to read it more carefully and have come away each time with new insights. And now I can't help seeing these trends playing out in news stories, library innovations, and my day-to-day interactions and activities. TrendsWatch 2015 will certainly provide plenty for starting a conversation with colleagues. It's also worthwhile to look back through previous TrendsWatch reports to see the trends that are still shaping our world and those that have changed and morphed in importance and influence.