Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Will You be Replaced by a Computer?

LIS News linked to this study of the potential computerization of jobs. With a lot of math and stuff, the authors tried to determine the likelihood that 702 jobs now done by humans could be replaced by computers in the near future.

Some jobs are pretty safe. Apparently, if you’re a recreational therapist or an emergency management director, the chance of your job being replaced by a computer is small. On the other hand, if you’re a watch repairer or a telemarketer, you should probably find other work.

If you’re a telemarketer, find other work anyway because you’re annoying.

The authors conclude that up to 47% of the occupations they studies were in danger of being replaced by computers.

How do libraries fare? Librarians are pretty much in the middle of the pack, ranked #360, with a 0.65 chance of getting replaced by computers. The closer the number is to 0, the lesser your chances, the closer to 1 the greater your chances.

Considering that “librarian” covers a lot of ground, there’s probably some major differences. If you’re a library director or you work with people a lot, you’re probably safe, at least safer than catalogers.

They find evidence that “wages and educational attainment exhibit a strong negative relationship with the probability of computerisation.” That’s probably good news for some of the relatively well paid and educated academic librarians out there.

Jobs that require a high degree of social intelligence are probably safe as well. There must be some librarian jobs that require that, although social intelligence, whatever that is, probably isn’t high on the list of average librarian attributes.

Other library workers might not fare so well. “Library Assistants, Clerical” is at #616 of 702, and “Library Technicians” are at #692, with a 0.99 chance of being computerized. That’s a pretty good chance.

Last week there was news about librarianless libraries, but maybe the libraries will have only librarians, the handful with the right pay, education, and social intelligence. Everyone else will be replaced with a computer, except maybe “Janitors and Cleaners,” who rank pretty close to Librarians, unless they’re all be replaced by Roombas with AI brains.

The future’s not looking too bright for a lot of people, though. Supposedly the computer revolution of the 20th century took away a lot of middle income jobs, but the new trend will be to take away low-wage and low-skill jobs.

The conclusion is either a gesture of concern or a sick joke: “Our findings thus imply that as technology races ahead, low-skill workers will reallocate to tasks that are non-susceptible to computerisation – i.e., tasks requiring creative and social intelligence. For workers to win the race, however, they will have to acquire creative and social skills.”

How that is to be accomplished isn’t within the scope of the article, but it most likely won’t happen. If the low-wage and low-skill workers today had more creative and social skills, they probably wouldn’t be working those jobs in the first place. People generally don’t work low-skill service jobs just for the heck of it.

As for educational level, 25% of Americans never graduate from high school, 7% receive neither a high school diploma or the GED equivalent, and 66.5% of Americans aged 25-29 don’t have a bachelor’s degree. That percentage rises for both older and black and Hispanic Americans.

That’s hardly our concern, right? Well, maybe it can be. One library is trying to make a difference. The Los Angeles Public Library is creating a program to help people get high school diplomas. With the public school graduation rate at 66%, every little bit helps.

Maybe those jobs will be harder to computerize.



  1. Of course every job will be replaced by robots with advanced AI. Doctors, lawyers, librarians, janitors, and every other job will be gone eventually. Do not worry, our elites will have left us all to die off before then anyway. We should just enjoy our usefulness while it lasts.

  2. I had a conversation about computerization and automation once. I’d just visited one of the most technologically advanced systems in our state and was telling my boss about all the neat whizzbang toys they had including RFID and one of those magical conveyor belts that checks materials in and automatically routes them to the appropriate bin for reshelving.

    Boss’s response was (paraphrased) “That’s nice and it might save money in the long run, but the initial cost is too much and we don’t want to put people out of a job.”

    Libraries are probably one of the only institutions where thought is given to those low-wage unskilled workers who handle things that could be computerized, but the awareness is definitely there. Now whether that awareness will save anyone in an era of budget cuts is another question entirely. At least we still need humans to walk the books from the mechanically sorted bins to the shelves, right?

    • smalltownlibrarian says:

      Human beings, yes. But it does not follow that those human beings will be paid. They could be volunteers. No salary means even less costs for the library.

    • Too true, and that was the trend that I saw before I left public libraries. There was a budget crisis every couple of years, they laid people off, and eventually positions were replaced with part-time workers who didn’t cost as much and didn’t get benefits. The only MLS people were in management and there weren’t very many of those jobs to go around.

    • Often RFID etc. were pushed b/c of workplace injury issues – kind of backdoor, huh.

  3. This was always my favorite “I’m bored, time to piss off everyone in my class” topics during my MILS. I’d basically suggest that the ideal and ultimate goal of LIS professionals was to design such a good system for their users/patrons that they would make their own job obsolete. Of course, this brought out the rah-rah librarians, light-brings of the world crowd in full force.

  4. The real issue is if the future of library labor lies with those with a library background and education, or a computing background and education.

    • RefDeskRef says:

      How many programmers are moved to throw out their earning potential and cushy offices by working in a library?

    • Ref – If my experience with “Technology People” working in libraries is any indication: None at all.

  5. Alex Kyrios says:

    If you think catalogers can be replaced by computers, you haven’t cataloged lately. The vagaries of cataloging standards make cataloging too illogical for a computer, perhaps by design. The stereotype and ideal of cataloging is a methodical, almost mechanical process; the reality is quite different.

  6. librarian in the midst says:

    After all the schooling an years of experience, I can see the replacement not with computers just yet, but definitely with people with just an Assiciate Degree. There is absolutely no reason for a Master degree in this field.

  7. I wouldn’t worry about being replaced by computers. In our system, librarians are being replaced by “customer service clerks”, who have no education or training. Evidently these attributes mean nothing to management, and they are convinced anyone can do our jobs.

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