Library Leadership

11. Miguel Figueroa, Director for the Center for the Future of Libraries

Change comes at us rapidly from all directions. What innovations do we implement in response to current developments in libraries? On this episode of Library Leadership Podcast, we talk with Miguel Figueroa, Director for the Center for the Future of Libraries (www.ala.org/libraryofthefuture), an initiative from the American Library Association.

Miguel shares how everyone in libraries can be empowered to think about the future with unique access points and perspectives. He guides us in evaluating innovations, based on the values of the profession to provide forward-thinking services to our communities. From virtual reality to daily resource allocation, this show helps answer your questions about when to act, or not act, and how to prioritize trends.

Full Transcript

Nate Vineyard: [00:00:00]

This podcast is brought to you by the School of Library and Information Management from Emporia State University where library leaders are created, with program sites in Kansas, Utah, Oregon, Colorado, and South Dakota, and by the Park City Library, making film and podcasting possible with green screen and sound recording resources.

Adriane Herrick Juarez : [00:00:27]

Today on Library Leadership Podcast, we interview Miguel Figueroa director of the American Library Association’s Center for the Future of Libraries.

Adriane Herrick Juarez :  [00:00:38]

Miguel identifies emerging trends, promotes futuring, and innovation techniques in libraries, and builds connections with experts and innovative thinkers – which we’re all about here at Library Leadership Podcast. You won’t want to miss this show.

Adriane Herrick Juarez :  [00:01:00]

Welcome, Miguel.

Miguel Figueroa: [00:01:01]

Thanks for having me.

Adriane Herrick Juarez :  [00:01:02]

It’s a pleasure. Well, I know that the Center for the Future of Libraries is doing so much to identify emerging trends, promote futuring, build connections with experts in the field. Can you tell us a little about what you’ve got going on?

Miguel Figueroa: [00:01:17]

Sure. So, we started this Future of Libraries project about four years ago. It’s based on some work that our colleagues at the American Alliance of Museums have done. They started the Center for the Future of Museums in 2008, I think. They had that basic charge that said, associations do a really good job of promoting best practices from within the profession but, especially in today’s world of change, that associations might also do good work helping their members and the larger profession look at some of the larger global trends that might eventually affect the work that we do. And, ALA’s leadership took that initiative and started to roll it out. And, I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with it from the start.

Miguel Figueroa: [00:02:10]

It’s interesting in a lot of ways. I think it’s what really good library leaders and library innovators have always done. They’ve had a very close eye on what’s happening within their organization and immediate environment, but they also take full responsibility of looking at the global context of change and really starting to integrate those changes into the fundamental practices that have made libraries enduring institutions for generations. So, oftentimes, I’m just trying to save a little bit of time for some of the users and say, What if ALA provided a perpetual trend scan?

Miguel Figueroa: [00:02:49]

I spent a lot of my time trying to identify trends that are of interest to libraries, that connect with our library values and try to articulate how those trends are developing, and why they might matter for libraries. From futuring and foresight, they say that thinking about the future starts by observing trends and changes that will have both an organizational, environmental, and a global context. And, then to start to articulate the possible ways that those trends and changes could evolve in our world. And, to prepare ourselves, not to predict the exact future, but to really say, OK, well – how can I understand the systems that might push us in different directions, so I’ll be better prepared no matter what the future might hold?

Miguel Figueroa: [00:03:34]

That’s a lot of what the work has been so far. And, it’s been interesting.

Adriane Herrick Juarez :  [00:03:39]

Absolutely. Well, and we appreciate you doing that work for us and helping libraries across the United States keep track of what’s going on and respond to those. What are you seeing out there? What are librarians asking you, and how can we all get better at this?

Miguel Figueroa: [00:03:55]

Well, I think libraries are doing a really good job of adapting to new ways of learning, and certainly new content formats. I think those things are core to who we are. So, we’ve made significant shifts towards more connected hands-on learning methods and techniques. I think we’re starting to appreciate the different content formats that users are interested in, and trying to adapt to those models. I think right now, one of the more interesting questions that I continue to receive is a question of physical space, and what’s the importance of physical space in an increasingly digital world. I think libraries are really well positioned because we have firm roots in our communities, or in our campuses, or school districts. But, we’re also trying to intermix digital resources and allow people to have a kind of visible, digital, hybrid experience. It’s just going to be a matter of continuing to refine the packages that we make, how well designed our resources are, and the ease of use for the user. So, I think that those are really interesting.

Miguel Figueroa: [00:05:05]

As far as what I think librarians are seen and learning? In a lot of ways, I think this futuring work has to lead to a change in culture. I think sometimes within libraries we think the responsibility for thinking of the future belongs to the library director or a team of the library administration level. And, I think for futurists and for say, professionals they believe that everyone can be empowered to think about the future. Because we all have different access points and perspectives on the changes that are happening in the organization, in the environment, and at the global level, it really does need to be an ongoing conversation that involves multiple people at the institution. It can’t just be something that we pick up every three years or once every five years when we write a strategic plan. But it has to be that sort of ongoing conversation.

Miguel Figueroa: [00:05:57]

I appreciate, especially when I go out and have an opportunity to talk with library staff, how many people have ideas, and how many people feel empowered to start to share those ideas within the context of talking about the future. Because it really is a pursuit of collective intelligence of everybody lending their vision towards identifying those possible scenarios for the future. And, when we do that, we develop new insights around what the future might be.

Adriane Herrick Juarez :  [00:06:26]

I really like the way you put that. We talk a lot about that in my staff. I’m a public library director as well as a podcast host, and the other morning in a start-up meeting, one of my staff members said, Well I wasn’t going to say this, but then I remembered you told me, we’re all leaders. And, then she shared a really innovative idea, which was great.

Miguel Figueroa: [00:06:44]

We all lead from different areas. I think that’s the other thing. The great thing about the trends and the changes that are happening in our world is that they don’t come through exclusively one direction. It could be really easy for us to think that it’s technology that we have to look towards. And, so it’s those tech-savvy individuals who are going to lead our future. But, in truth, the demographic changes that are happening, the cultural changes that are happening, those are things that lots of us lead with. That we have that perspective to our work, as first and foremost, whether we’re a children’s librarian or any one of a number of roles, or personal traits that we may have. So, there’s lots of opportunities to chime in.

Adriane Herrick Juarez :  [00:07:24]

And you touched earlier on values-based thinking as we move ahead. Can you elaborate a little bit on that?

Miguel Figueroa: [00:07:32]

Yeah, I think it’s weird, as I look through futuring and foresight literature they don’t talk as much about values. So, it’s something that I started to realize, especially as I got feedback from different people in the library profession. When we talk about trends and changes, it’s really easy to study the trends and to identify how they’re developing – the sort of progression through the world that shows that this is a sustained trend. But, if we really want to take action, we have to figure out well, what does it mean for libraries?

Miguel Figueroa: [00:08:10]

And, I kept trying to articulate what it meant for libraries. And, at some point, a couple of people came up and said, what you’re really hitting on are the values that we have, that libraries don’t follow trends for popularity or for profit. We follow and use trends to make them useful for the values that we stand behind. That we believe in equitable access. We believe in a civic commons. We believe in intellectual freedom, privacy, and other types of things. So, when we look at a trend or a change, we’re not just looking at, oh, this is happening, and then we scurry off and work. We really look at it, and say, OK, I’m going to say this is happening. But, I’m also going to interpret and say, This is what it means for the reasons that I came into this profession. And, this is what it means for what I think the library provides to a community.

Miguel Figueroa: [00:08:58]

I think that’s really helpful because it allows us to prioritize certain trends and changes, so that we say this is really important for the values that I hold most dear within my community, it’s that sort of sense of urgency to act on this trend, and to make it meaningful for that value that I have.

Miguel Figueroa: [00:09:21]

At the opposite end, we may see some trends that we say, This is really detrimental to some of the values that I have. I really need to spend some time thinking about how the library might intervene in this trends development, or how the library might be more responsible and reactive to help the community contend with a particularly negative trend.

Miguel Figueroa: [00:09:41]

And, then there may also be trends where we don’t really see it resonating right now within our values set. And, for those trends, perhaps, that’s the indication that we don’t need to spend a lot of energy or resources acting on that particular trend or change, but we want to maintain an observation of that.

Miguel Figueroa: [00:09:59]

So, I think the values are kind of a litmus test by which we say, if we’re going to act, or if we don’t need to act. And, maybe even the ways in which we react to a particular trend or change. I think we are so fortunate to have a firm set of professional values that guides the work that we do and make sure that we continue to be responsible and valuable in years to come.

Adriane Herrick Juarez :  [00:10:24]

I like that. And, we have a lot of values here at the Park City Library, where I work. Empowering minds, inspiring imagination, connecting community, and we always circle back on how we’re doing that with the choices we make regarding our resources and implementing programs. You just had an article in American Libraries Magazine on virtual reality, which we did choose to invest in. And, I’m curious what you’re seeing going on out, there that might just be fun, or interesting to think about.

Miguel Figueroa: [00:10:57]

Well, I think within virtual reality there is a great example of how libraries have looked at a particular trend, a trend in how content and information is disseminated. And, started to filter that through our values, and recognize that it’s certainly an issue of access to information and access to technology. So, we’ve seen certain libraries, like in California, where they’ve made partnerships with vendors. The full reality of technology companies, I think, see libraries as a real first line for introducing this new technology broadly, across communities.

Miguel Figueroa: [00:11:39]

So, for those libraries, they may be taking a perspective of virtual reality as an equity of access issue. This is an emerging technology trend and we need to make sure that future generations, and all people, have access and understanding of this technology in order to remain competitive in an information-rich world.

Miguel Figueroa: [00:12:02]

I think we’ve seen from other libraries, though, that have said, We are interested in virtual reality as an access to information issue but, we’re also interested in virtual reality from a creation and expression issue. And, so I’ve seen some libraries that have invested programming time in maybe, doing something as simple as using mobile phones and some of their 360-degree camera capabilities. And, so they’re working with kids too, kind of, create 360-degree videos that enhance or augment school reports or some other sort of activity.

Miguel Figueroa: [00:12:40]

They’re really trying to look at that to say, Immersive video and immersive content will not be something for us to consume, but it will be a way for us to create and express ourselves. And, so they’re taking a slightly different value line with that virtual reality production, and they’re looking at it from the content creation perspective, which I think is another really great opportunity for us to look toward.

Miguel Figueroa: [00:13:07]

I think that those are really great examples of how libraries look at value, and say, We can move in this direction because it’s particularly interesting. And, I think the other thing is that we’ve seen a big shift in virtual reality. For a long time, we thought it was going to be mostly entertainment, and maybe gaming, or some sort of leisure activity. And, we’re seeing more and more reputable publishers in VR technology as a means of transmitting information.

Miguel Figueroa: [00:13:36]

You know the New York Times, and National Geographic and all of these other publishers are providing informational content in immersive formats. So, we have to look at that also from information literacy – how will people know how to write that content. How will they know how to integrate it into their writings and papers, and other types of things. So that’s another interesting opportunity for us to explore.

Adriane Herrick Juarez :  [00:14:02]

Those are fascinating ways of looking at things and give us real perspective on how we might evaluate our services. As an information professional, do you have any books or resources that you have found particularly useful as a leader?

Miguel Figueroa: [00:14:17]

I think in the past year one of the books that’s really stuck with me, is this book called When Strangers Meet by Kio Stark. She based this book off a TED Talk that she had given. It really looks at how people might meet and interact with each other and spark conversations, especially when it’s conversations with complete strangers, which is the bulk of our time out and about in public, as we often encounter people, that we don’t meet. I thought the book was really interesting in terms of how we confront each other and have, sometimes, difficult conversations. Often when you’re starting from being strangers, it’s going to be an awkward or difficult conversation, even how we talk across some of our issues of diversity, and people who are fundamentally different or the other from us. So, I really like that.

Miguel Figueroa: [00:15:07]

It reminded me in a lot of ways of two other books that I really like, this book called Difficult Conversations, that was by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen. It was all about how to talk about the things that matter most to us, that sometimes can spark difficult conversations – that are, really, important for us to navigate through.

Miguel Figueroa: [00:15:29]

Then, there was this other book I read several years ago, that stuck with me for years. It was called, The Cost of Bad Behavior, and it was by two researchers, I think they’re from Harvard or were at Harvard at the time Christine Pearson, and Christine Porath. They really looked at what are some of the breakdowns, especially internal, within staff that create negative outcomes for the larger organization. There are subtle things that we do to each other that limit, not only the organization’s outcomes but our own satisfaction with our work life. And, ultimately that have a negative effect on each other. We all have to go home and we carry some of that baggage back with us.

Miguel Figueroa: [00:16:14]

So, most of those are all about how people connect to each other and I think what I usually fall back on, is that it’s a person-to-person relationship that really sparks change and innovation.

Adriane Herrick Juarez :  [00:16:26]

Those sound outstanding. Thank you for sharing them with us. In closing, what does being a leader in the world of libraries mean to you personally?

Miguel Figueroa: [00:16:36]

This is a really difficult question for me. I guess because it forces me to use terms that will be uncomfortable for people. Part of why I liked libraries is because it provided an opportunity to be in service to other people, and in service to a greater good. I know sometimes we don’t want to think of ourselves as a service profession, and maybe we’re not a service profession the way that term is sometimes, thrown around. But, I think that most of what I do, I try to think of it as I’m in service to other people. So, I don’t often think of myself as a leader in terms of a thought leader, or a leader in terms of making plans and executing them.

Miguel Figueroa: [00:17:21]

I think if I’m a leader in any way, I hope and strive to be a leader in helping to connect people together, and in helping to elevate other people’s good ideas and good work. Those are the ways that I try and be a leader.

Miguel Figueroa: [00:17:39]

I appreciate this opportunity at the Center for the Future of Libraries because I think it’s given me that opportunity to hear from lots of different people. And, to synthesize their ideas and try to create a platform on which people can layer their even better, and more innovative, ideas on top of it, to make greater goals and outcomes.

Miguel Figueroa: [00:18:01]

That’s oftentimes how I frame my leadership journey, is it’s much more about putting people together, rather than trying to be out in front.

Adriane Herrick Juarez :   [00:18:12]

Well, I for one can say, thank you for all that you do. I know that I’ve benefited from listening to you speak and reading your articles. It does make a positive difference. And, so on behalf of the profession, thank you for what you do.

Adriane Herrick Juarez :   [00:18:26]

Also, thank you for being on the show today. It’s been a pleasure talking with you.

Miguel Figueroa: [00:18:30]

Thank you so much. This was great.

Adriane Herrick Juarez :   [00:18:32]

You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. For more episodes, tune in to libraryleadershippodcasts.com, where you can now subscribe to have monthly updates delivered right into your email inbox. Our producer is Nate Vineyard. And, thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.

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