5 Library Trends to Watch in 2016

Library Trends in 2016Libraries everywhere continue to meet the challenge of evolving as their users’ needs change. These changes are never easy and often need to be tweaked as they are put into practice. While many of the library trends that I list below are not completely new, I think you’ll find it interesting how they have continued to evolve and I am sharing some of the interesting twists I am seeing take shape.

1. Makerspaces

Makerspaces (or the preferred name you call them) continue to be adopted by public, academic and K-12 libraries everywhere. Not even mentioned in the 2014 Horizon Reports for K-12 Education and Library (Academic), the 2015 reports indicated that they were not only trends, but on track for immediate adoption. A trend that I expected to be much more likely to be adopted in public libraries, quickly found a place with schools and universities as it fits so well with the “hands-on learning” models that have been so readily accepted.

While these spaces have become popular for all types of libraries, I am seeing them manifest themselves in different ways. Often the concept is not as much about a space as it is about a community platform to further interests and stimulate exploration.

Public Libraries — Initially, there was a strong inclination that these spaces had to be high-tech and equipment-driven. Now, libraries are seeing their makerspaces offer everything from craft programs to business incubation projects and everything in-between. Sewing machines have become quite popular and 3-D printing has moved from a novelty to a more practical pursuit.

Karen McPheeters, Director of Farmington (NM) Public Library recently shared with me that in her library, they were able to use their 3-D printer to create a part that was no longer available to fix their building. You can bet that got the attention of city officials!

School Libraries — In schools, the library has become a place where hands-on learning comes to life and STEM/STEAM topics can be explored. The addition of these spaces and programs appeals to students and makes the library an intriguing destination.

Academic Libraries — Always focused on better meeting the needs of students and faculty, digital media labs and makerspaces provide one more way to do that. Often libraries are using these spaces to provide supported services that help students through a hands-on learning process. This allows for a guided process that helps students create compelling presentations and complete complex projects. The College Library at University of Wisconsin-Madison offers this type of program in their Design Lab.

2. Internet of Things

Widely discussed over the past several years, it has taken a while to grasp how this trend will actually manifest itself, particularly in libraries. The prevalence of wearable fitness devices and smartphones help us get our heads around how the technology functions and impacts users’ daily activities. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, the Internet of Things took center stage.

While the technology is still being developed, sending, receiving and monitoring data to make daily activities more efficient and seamless is attracting interest. Retail technologies that monitor customer movement and interactions and technology that helps manage collections could impact libraries in years to come.

3. Knowing Your Community

Again, this doesn’t seem to be anything new, but it is taking some different directions. Truly understanding the dynamics and needs of your community is more critical than ever. Discovering appropriate services is often more about understanding what is going on outside of your library in order to bring new users in. Many communities are taking a taking a hard look at serving seniors and millennials when evaluating their library’s needs.

Seniors — This is an incredibly diverse and growing population that libraries are struggling to understand. At the recent ALA Midwinter Conference, Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of AARP, discussed the idea of disrupting aging.  She indicated that libraries have “a huge role to play” in helping older citizens to pursue the freedom to learn.

Millennials — This is another group that is requiring libraries to dramatically rethink the services that they’re providing. A 2014 Pew Research Report indicates that this is a group that values reading and sees libraries as important, but engages with them in different ways. In Arlington, VA, the county’s public library system has built a robust series of programs that cater to young professionals, sponsoring trivia nights in local bars, book clubs in restaurants, and adult recess and game nights at the Central Library. Many other libraries have found success through new offerings that engage this group.

4. Measuring for Improvement and Impact

The discussion around metrics has moved to action. Many libraries are now utilizing programs such as The Edge Initiative and PLA Project Outcome and are beginning to show how this data can be helpful in educating their communities on the value that libraries provide. Schools have data to work with as well through the recently released School Libraries Work report. The key to success here is proving to be a focus on outcomes rather than just outputs.

5. Story Doing

Libraries of all types are recognizing a need to do a better job of communicating. Eduscapes has even put together as great resource page that lays out a marketing plan for libraries. In this plan it talks about using stories to communicate messages and get points across, which has proven to be effective, particularly when combined with some of the measurements discussed in the previous point.

A newer approach that is coming to the forefront, particularly in the business world is Story Doing. The difference is a more action-centered approach that places stories at the center of the how the library pursues its mission. At its best, it’s embraced by the entire staff and is reflected in everything they do. With the service-oriented approach, it can be a great way to demonstrate the power of your library!

Libraries always demonstrate a sense of optimism even in the most challenging of situations. Sure, the new year brings with it plenty of challenges, but there are also even more new ideas, technology and approaches to ensure your success! We look forward to continuing to provide Ideas + Inspiration that you can use to make your library successful.


Janet Nelson

Janet Nelson

Janet is the former Director of Library Engagement and Solutions at Demco. She managed and developed relationships with key industry leaders to understand changing library trends and services.