#citylis Student Perspectives: Are Librarians Replaceable? by Nehad Alhadi

Student Perspectives is our series of guest posts written by current #citylis students.

This post is by current #citylis student, Nehad Alhadi, and discusses the impact of Artificial Intelligence on Libraries.



The technology revolution attempted to create machines that could replace human manpower in various fields. Also, there is clear competition between industrial countries in inviting interaction with robots, which may replace human roles in the next few years.

Today’s computers can simulate many human capacities, for instance: reading, grasping, calculating, speaking, remembering, comparing numbers, drawing, making judgments, and even interactive learning.

Industrial robots have already eliminated thousands of workers’ positions by performing their manufacturing jobs. This leads us to think about the library worker’s future, can artificial intelligence replace the librarian role?

Firstly we need to know the meaning of artificial intelligence. The Encyclopedia of Britannica defined the AI as the follows:

“Artificial Intelligence (AI), the ability of a digital computer or computer-controlled robot to perform tasks commonly associated with intelligent beings. The term is frequently applied to the project of developing systems endowed with the intellectual processes characteristic of humans, such as the ability to reason, discover meaning, generalise, or learn from past experience.” And this video explains what is Artificial Intelligence Exactly:

As the AI revolution grows rapidly and has a clear influence in all fields, libraries and information science has become one of these fields. At Aberystwyth University in the United Kingdom, a group of students create a voice-controlled artificially intelligent robot that helps library users to quickly find any book in the library within an instant.

It is able to move through the library and can physically take the user to any book’s location. Interacting with Hugh is simple; you speak to him as you would a person. This artificial intelligence assistant robot is about enhancing the user experience in a non-intrusive way.

Read more about this project here http://www.iamhugh.co.uk/


Source: Aberystwyth University

In addition, a group of researchers at Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) created AuRoSS robot, which uses a robotic arm and RFID scanner to catalogue book locations, and uses the laser-guided navigation to wheel around unfamiliar bookshelves. Also, AuRoSS can be programmed to scan the library shelves at night and instruct librarians how to get the books back in order when they arrive in the morning.


Source: Singapore’s Agency for Science

Based on what we know today about AI, I think the librarian role has become more complicated than finding books on the shelves or answering the traditional user inquiries. What the AI offers may help the librarian to improve the workflow by completing the duties faster and more efficiently, for example, in Applications of Expert Systems in cataloguing, classification, documentation, collection development etc. In addition, it may replace good old-fashioned human elbow grease in the shelving department.

Also, from our daily life, we can observe that AI technology replaced the jobs, which need left-brain skills like logical, analytical, and mathematical. According to Colvin, “the skills of deep human interaction, the abilities to manage the exchanges that occur only between people, will only become more valuable.” Skills like empathy or creativity should allow humans to maintain a critical advantage over AI, in that they allow us to better understand the irrationality and unpredictability of our fellow humans. Finally, the human behaviours are complicated and require a higher level of technology to understanding especially  human natural language.


Bell, S. (2016) Promise and peril of AI for academic librarians | from the Bell Tower. Available at: http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2016/04/opinion/steven-bell/promise-and-peril-of-ai-for-academic-librarians-from-the-bell-tower/#_ (Accessed: 3 December 2016).

Colvin, G.C.G. (2015) Humans are underrated: What high Achievers know that brilliant machines never will. United States: Portfolio

McDonald, C. (2016) Robo librarian tracks down misplaced books. Available at: http://www.popsci.com/robo-librarian-tracks-down-misplaced-books (Accessed: 3 December 2016).

O’Brien, L. (2016) We need to talk about robot librarians » MobyLives. Available at: http://www.mhpbooks.com/we-need-to-talk-about-robot-librarians/ (Accessed: 3 December 2016).

Torner, K. (2016) Information seeking, retrieving, reading and storing behaviour of library-users. Available at: http://std.kku.ac.th/4830802252/Programme/Greenstone/example- greenstone/Word_and_PDF/Documents/rtf02.rtf


You can follow Nehad on Twitter.

This post is an edited version of the original which was published on the author’s blog on 4th December 2016.

If you are interested in studying Library and Information Science, our next Open Evening is on February 15th from 5.30-7.30pm – you can book your place here.

If you are a current #citylis student or alumni and would like to contribute a post, please contact our Editor, James Atkinson.

About James

Information Assistant (Academic Services) in the Library at City, University of London.
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