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Benefits of emerging technologies


Are you ready to optimise
the potential of digital technology,
and other technologies,
to better serve
our clients and communities?

Optimising the benefits of emerging technologies

“There's a one-eyed yellow idol to the north of Khatmandu …” quoted the former reference librarian.

Back in the early ‘80s this music hall monologue was the topic of regular enquiry at public library reference desks. A pastiche of Kipling’s poetry, it was neither in Palgrave nor the Oxford Book of Light Verse. Instead it was typed out on a card kept ‘behind the desk’ so that it could be photocopied. “That job has gone”, he added, “replaced by an algorithm and a piece of plastic made in China … ”.

Harnessing the benefits

Moving to the ‘here and now’, it is perhaps the pace and potential significance of emerging technologies that command our attention.

Thinking of machine learning alone, there are massive implications for our workforce. This year opened, for instance, with a paper by Marshall et al recommending that users of health research move towards using machine learning algorithms as a replacement for database search filters as a means to reduce workload and increase accuracy. The team offers an evaluation and a practitioners guide.

Bringing novel research methods together in text mining and machine learning in one system accelerate screening dramatically, reducing the time needed to exclude non-relevant citations. Work on RobotAnalyst signals the potential value of an evolving text mining tool for sifting the evidence for complex literature searches in public-health or health-services research. Even during the course of the research, RobotAnalyst was being harnessed as a screening tool. “Specifically, the system has been employed by NICE in developing new guidelines and surveillance reviews on benefits of exercise, behavioural change, fighting addictions, managing weight and others.”

Keeping pace with news of emerging technologies

Library services have a rich history of embracing technological innovation. Some stay, some come and go. Sensing an accelerating pulse of change, last summer I invited a group of healthcare librarians to start to identify emerging technologies and consider how to apply them within the library and knowledge settings.

Building on a resource developed for the Topol Review, Health Education England’s Knowledge Management team initiated a monthly round-up of healthcare tech news.1

Liz Hickock from Sunnyvale Public Library in the heart of Silicon Valley anticipates that 3 D printers, virtual reality, and robotics will become more commonplace as outreach tools at libraries over the next five years. Further, digital learning platforms like Hoopla will continue to position libraries as technology hubs for independent study, lifelong development and leisure. Libraries will produce more digital content of their own.

Brooklyn Public Library, the USA’s fifth-largest library system, is modernizing for downloads and robots. “Being literate today means being digitally fluent” says Linda E. Johnson, CEO. For libraries and librarians, it also means adapting at an ever-accelerating pace writes the New York Times.

Writing in Elsevier’s Library Connect, Ida A. Joiner considers looks how library managers can gain buy-in from decision-makers to implement these technologies and others - including drones, artificial intelligence, augmented reality and wearables in the library. They offer a neat Stakeholder Buy-in Checklist for implementing emerging technologies.

Embracing digital technology

It is no surprise then that Embracing digital innovation was the theme of the IFLA Global Vision workshop hosted in Hanoi in May 2018.

The IFLA Global Vision Report Summary distils the findings of an exercise to explore the challenges and opportunities for the library field around the world. It highlights that:

We embrace digital innovation [Highlight 4]
The field strongly agrees on the essential role of digital innovations in realising libraries’ potential to enrich society, regardless of how extensively they already can and do use technology.

IFLA sees two major opportunities for our workforce:

We must update our traditional roles in the digital age
To support learning, literacy and reading meaningfully in a digital age, libraries must adapt continuously. Services, collections and practices must develop to meet changing user expectations.

We must keep up with ongoing technological changes
Ensuring all libraries have the right tools, infrastructure, funding, and skills to seize the opportunities provided by digital innovations is a pressing need.

Where next?

Today it is apparent that the extraordinary range and pace of technological innovation offers significant opportunities to librarians and information professionals.

The question is - are we ready to optimise the potential of digital technology, and other technologies, to better serve our clients and communities?

Sue Lacey Bryant BA Hons, Dip Lib, MSc, MIHM, FCLIP
Senior Advisor, Knowledge for Healthcare
Health Education England

1. You may request the monthly Technology Update via


Health hub   

Published: 12 June 2018


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