Make 2008 Your Year For Trend Watching

Librarians need to pay more attention to important societal, cultural and business trends. That was the core premise of the Soaring to Excellence (STE) program in which I participated back on October 26, 2007. If you unfamiliar with STE it is a professional development teleconference that library workers can join both over the web and by satellite downlink. Each season of STE focuses on a specific issue, and there are three live programs covering some aspect of that issue. This year the theme of STE is “Mapping the Library Landscape: Every Librarian a Trendspotter.” The October program was the leadoff session for the series, and it focused on “Finding the Trends That Matter.” We discussed the importance of being a trendspotter, and how activities such as environmental scanning and a regular organizational SWOT analysis can help libraries and library workers to improve their services.

So why I am bringing this up now? Because of a recent article in the New York Times that speaks volumes about the importance of paying attention to trends, and how this can encourage librarians to be forward thinking and perhaps even stimulate their innovation. Yesterday the Times reported about youth participation in virtual worlds. While librarians have focused their attention on Second Life, which the article says has “enjoyed intense media attention in the last year but fallen far short of breathless expectations,” perhaps what we should be watching is what the article describes as the “web playgrounds of the very young.” Forget Second Life. Perhaps we need to learn about sites like Club Penguin and Webkinz in order to better understand the role that online role-playing games and virtual social scenes play in the lives of people who will be our students in the next decade. One expert estimates that 20 million children will be members of a virtual world by 2011, up from 8.2 million today. If those numbers keep growing I think we can at least anticipate a new generation of learners with expectations for interaction in virtual worlds. One day they’re constructing a virtual fuzzy friend in a web-based world, and the next they’ll be looking for electronic resources on virtual library shelves while seeking guidance from a friendly librarian avatar.

Folks, do I need to remind you the world in which we live is changing rapidly? My post is not intended to encourage you to rush out to create your avatar or to join Webkinz. I haven’t done either yet, although now that my university may be offering some programs in Second Life I may finally have a reason to visit and explore that virtual world. The goal of my post, as I did on that STE program, is to encourage you to make a stronger commitment, call it a resolution if you will, to spend more time and energy in 2008 on your personal trendspotting mission. No one can spot all the important trends – and only a few will be the ones to which we need pay attention – but there are resources one can follow to increase the opportunities for spotting the right trends.

And certainly no one has the time to try every Web 2.0 tool or software utility, test every new plug-in or application or visit every new virtual site. But there is a tremendous professional advantage to at least knowing about these things as opposed to being completely in the dark about them. I will never visit Webkinz, but I should know about it and understand what happens there. In the end academic librarianship is largely about making a difference in the lives of those we serve. If we fail to grasp their world and what is relevant in their lives – if we fail to understand them and the trends that define their existence – then our ability to make a difference is vastly minimized. Here at ACRLog we will do our best in 2008 to spot and discuss those trends we think are highly relevant to the work and future of academic librarians and their libraries. We look forward to your participation in the conversation.

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