Think Like a Futurist | Project Advocacy

When we envision a future for our libraries, we shape the present, writes Project Advocacy columnist Carolyn Foote.

Being a librarian today requires being a futurist. That means embracing a growth mind-set and seeing libraries as developing enterprises, not fixed ones. It means constantly reexamining library practices, programs, policies, and spaces to meet the changing needs of the school. These are concepts that consultant and futurist Joan Frye Williams emphasized during the American Libraries Association’s (ALA) invitational Summit on the Future of Libraries, held at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, earlier this year.

Collective ownership

Such thinking may also involve embracing the idea of the collective ownership of the library. Sandy Brock, library media specialist at Cedarcrest Middle School and Marysville Middle School, in the Marysville (WA) School District, encourages librarians to “emphasize to every student that the library, the library holdings, and the library staff belong to everyone.”

“Because I am half-time at two schools, I depend on my students to help run the library,” Brock says. “They have risen to the challenge in amazing ways and love the investment.” Her students helped redesign the library and initiated the creation of a performance space there. “Collaborating with our applied math teacher, we were able to design and build a small performance stage,” she says. Students perform there during lunch.

We can demonstrate forward thinking by monitoring and responding to trends. As technology growth impacts the Boulan Park and Smith Middle Schools in Troy, MI, media specialist Christina Chatel is thinking proactively. “Our school district is implementing a 1:1 iPad initiative next year,” she says. “I noticed this past year that students always come to the media center to film their iMovie projects.” Chatel plans to apply for grants for a tech area with a green screen and iPad mirroring.

Embracing our own professional development (PD) also conveys that we are proactive. “If I want to model lifelong learning to kids, I have to be a learner myself,” says Nancy Jo Lambert, librarian at McSpedden Elementary in the Frisco (TX) Independent School District. In addition, we need to publicize the learning engagement of our students via blogs, newsletters, Vine, Twitter, Facebook, Vimeo, YouTube, Smore, and Tackk, among other social media platforms. If you’ve been reluctant to get started, now’s the time to start a simple blog or Instagram account to share your work and your students’.

How to think like a futurist

• Identify your core values. Are they around student learning? Center on students and school goals.

• Leave behind “conference guilt”—the sense that leaving your campus for PD disadvantages students and teachers. A day of PD may inspire months of great ideas.

• Think about what library policies are leftovers from “how it has always been done” and decide how to change them. Do they support your core values? Publicize the changes and the philosophy behind them.

• Reconsider your title and the name of your library. Read Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick (Random, 2007) or refer to Michael Margolis’s “Get Storied” site ( to successfully represent what you do.

• Don’t wait for change. Seek out and embrace changes, small and large, and share them with your community.

At ALA’s Summit on the Future, Thomas Frey, author of Communicating with the Future (CGX, 2011), noted that the future shapes the present. Envisioning a future for our libraries impacts the here and now.

Make it your goal to have your principal characterize the school librarian as a positive, innovative, student-centered leader. Think like a futurist, and do a service not only to your students, but to the profession as a whole.

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