should librarians learn how to code?

CILIP's Research Report: Should librarians embrace AI and learn how to code?

October 27, 2021
Clare Brown

There has been an interesting run of webinars on the topic of libraries and AI recently. One particularly informative one was CILIP’s webinar on "AI, machine learning, process automation and robotics". In it, they examined their Research Report (May 2021) and took a peek into the future of libraries and the library management skills that we will be needing. 

He had wondered, as had most people at one time or another, precisely why an android bounced helplessly about when confronted by an empathy-measuring test. Empathy, evidently, existed only within the human community, whereas intelligence to some degree could be found throughout every phylum and order including the arachnida. Philip K. Dick, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”

Because we are all busy library and information professionals, I thought I’d take this opportunity to give you some tasters and inspire you to think about the continuing professional development issues it raises. The key takeaway from this session was the sense of optimism for the future of the profession. That is to say, if information people embrace the tech, then career opportunities will follow. 

How are libraries dealing with their photo archives?

It’s not just about our tech skills

The purpose of CILIP’s research is to help them and the wider professional community to understand how AI, machine learning, process automation and robotics are either already impacting the daily work of information professionals or likely to do so in the near future. The research seeks to answer the following questions, so that information workers in every industry - including the health sector, which is discussed below - have access to the right skillset: 

  • How do we ensure that today’s workforce has the skills and understanding they need in order to enable them to support their users in participating safely and successfully in a modern world that is increasingly powered by artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, process automation and robotics? 
  • What are the ethical implications of our approach to these technologies – how can we deploy the existing ethical framework for librarians and ensure that it aligns to emerging work on Data Ethics and responsible technology? 
  • What should the skillset of the future workforce look like and what is the curriculum by which we will ensure that the next generation of information professionals have the skills to keep pace with future developments in technology?

A lot of the tech is already here and has been in general use for some time. Captcha, auto translate, and chatbots are just the start. Companies are increasingly applying sentiment analysis to find out how people feel about their brands, and galleries are using machine vision to apply quality metadata to ensure accurate and efficient searching. So how can we prepare ourselves for careers of the future?

Exploring CILIP’s Professional Knowledge and Skills Base (PKSB)

Human information professionals possess skills which AI can only dream about. Dr Andrew Cox, the author of CILIP's research report, pointed out that although we are seeing rapid tech developments, AI in its current form cannot match human intuition and emotional intelligence. An infographic outlines these increasingly valuable human soft skills, but these are the key ones mentioned, 

  • Complex problem solving and critical thinking
  • Creativity 
  • People management 
  • Service orientation 
  • Cognitive flexibility

The CILIP Professional Knowledge and Skills Base (PKSB) aims to address the need for all types of skills across the information profession. It has been developed in consultation with employers, practitioners, sector experts and learning providers. It is recognised as the foundation of learning and skills development for the profession and often referred to as the “PKSB” by the information community.

The PKSB is a valuable career development tool - it helps you to identify training needs and to prepare for appraisals, CILIP Professional Registration, career development and planning, job applications and progression. At the heart of the PKSB is a set of ethics and values which a range of generic skills and professional expertise are built around. 

Library classification problem is roughly equal in complexity to the machine translation of languages.

Margery Masterson via Sir Alan Wilson 

In the webinar, Jo Cornish explained more about how the report informed the new section on data management. This section introduces AI/algorithmic literacy and data stewardship:

  • The section on AI and algorithmic literacy outlines the importance of AI and its impact on society. We need to understand the implications, potential and constraints of AI, as well as identifying human and cultural factors in AI outputs. We need to critically evaluate automated search, AI-powered analytics and decision making processes. The aim is to support CILIP members to build competencies in these areas. 

  • The section on Data Stewardship highlights the need to appreciate the transformative power of data on individuals, services, economic growth and society. We need to understand the implications and potential of AI to describe, predict and influence behaviour. Information professionals need to act as data stewards, empowering individuals and communities to understand the implications of data privacy and how to proactively manage this.

Learn how Public Health England freed up their time for curation

Library and information people in the healthcare workforce

Sue Lacey Bryant leads the implementation of Knowledge for Healthcare, Health Education England (HEE). Her part in this webinar was to explore how HEE was creating a digitally confident knowledge and library services workforce. 

The Topol Review: Preparing the healthcare workforce to deliver the digital future” outlined recommendations to ensure the British National Health Service (NHS) is the world leader in using digital technologies to benefit patients. It will involve implementing technologies such as genomics, digital medicine, artificial intelligence and robotics at a faster pace and on a greater scale than anywhere else in the world.

She explained that “the adoption of digital healthcare technologies should be grounded in compelling real world evidence of clinical efficacy and cost-effectiveness, followed by practical knowledge transfer. The workforce needs expertise, standards and guidance to evaluate technology applications”.

What does this mean for library and information professionals? In order to implement aspects of the Topol Review and ensure there are the requisite number of skilled information workers, Sue says the answer lies in CILIP’s Research Report questions, as outlined above. 

A 2019 survey on NHS Development Needs identified “emerging technologies as being the top four learning and development needs for all bands of staff. Information workers have a huge appetite for new skills around digital literacy, programming, software development, horizon scanning, and data literacy, etc. However, just as there are questions around whether lawyers should learn to code, is it necessary that information professionals should? 

Other questions that we need to think about:

  • What skills do you think we will need in the future?
  • What do you think of the CILIP tech review?
  • How can industries learn from each other?

I am grateful for all these webinars, for all the insights into complicated and challenging topics, and all the questions they raise. Technology is here to stay and it is important to see the positive impact it can have - let the tech do the hard work, so you can concentrate on creating value for your clients and end-users. 

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