Contributed by Ivan Lopez
With the ever-increasing pace of technology, more and more jobs are getting automated.
A BBC article reported last September1 that around 35% of current jobs in the UK are at high risk of being automated within the next two decades, based on a study conducted by researchers at Oxford University last 2013 and Deloitte UK. According to the said article, librarians stand at 52% chance of automation while archivists and curators are at 38%.
Michael Osborne and Carl Frey, authors of the study, calculated the probability of automation of each job based on nine key skills such as social perceptiveness, persuasion, negotiation, assistance and caring for others, originality, fine arts, finger as well as manual dexterity and the need to work in a cramped space.
Most of the jobs scoring high in automation risk are mainly those that require a cramped space to work, high finger and manual dexterity. Meanwhile, jobs that require creative thinking, high social intelligence, and helping and assisting others are less likely to be automated.
What does this all mean?
While advancements in IT continue to grow, there is some sentiment that libraries and librarians aren’t needed in the digital age. As with paper books still being used in a time of iPads and e-books, librarians are still important in the 21st century. And this doesn’t include other fields LIS students are trained for, such as creation of information systems/databases into consideration.
No amount of available AI can’t appraise historical artifacts or documents, nor handle them like an archivist would. Cataloging library materials are done with the help of online catalogs/databases and bar codes. But assigning subject headings still requires a human mind to do so, since understanding contexts is something a machine can’t do at present.
Osborne and Frey, in their study, say that jobs that require social interactions and assistance to other people will still be performed by humans. As part of their job, librarians are trained to assist, help and teach library users, evaluate information sources and organize them. In fact, the OECD says that this role of librarians will grow2 in the upcoming years.
The 21st century heralded the emergence of “information overload”, brought by the vast amount of information easily accessible anytime, anywhere. Though search engines may find information in less than a second, it may take incredible amounts of time and patience just to find the right tidbit of data you need. Librarians, especially reference librarians, can help make sense of the search results, or proactively, refine search queries to minimize junk results.
There’s no denial that libraries and librarians will experience changes in the future. Until technology has progressed enough to automate service-oriented tasks (e.g., reference service) or critical-thinking tasks (e.g., abstracting and assignment of subject headings), librarians will always be present.
Or perhaps, even when it happens, librarians will just adapt to it, just like what they’re doing now.
1 BBC (2015), Will a robot take your job?. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-34066941
2 Regett, Peter (2006), Librarians in the 21st century. OECD Observer No. 257. Retrieved from: http://www.oecdobserver.org/news/archivestory.php/aid/2149/Librarians_in_the_21st_century.html