Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Rise of the Machines

The question that has been on all our minds can now be answered with scientific certainty: will your job be done by a machine in the future?

Sure, there are probably other pressing questions that librarians and librarians manque ponder obsessively over. Will I get a job? Why does this job suck so much? Why did I take out $30,000 in student loans to get a job making $30,000 a year? Those kinds of questions.

But younger librarians especially should ask whether they’ll just be replaced with a robot in the future.

I used the guide to find the answer. “Librarians have a 64.9% chance of being automated.”

By that sentence, I assume they mean that the jobs librarians do will be automated, rather than librarians themselves. Although the creation of robolibrarians isn’t that far beyond the imagination.

If I’m reading the charts right, and I might not be, if you need to come up with clever solutions, personally help others, or negotiate, you have a lesser chance of your job being automated. Whereas if you have to fit into small spaces, there’s a greater chance.

So it looks like reference librarians might have less chance of being automated than, say, catalogers, because there’s more personal interaction with people.

Or maybe not. There are FAQs just like there are automated checkout systems. In a world of perfect FAQs, every question will have already been answered satisfactorily. But we probably won’t get that world.

There must be a small number of librarians who come up with clever solutions to problems, but I don’t know any of them, unless pretending the problem doesn’t exist or forming a committee count as clever solutions.

It’s not quite this dire in every job categorized as “education, training, and library.” College professors have only a 3.2% chance of being automated, which oddly enough is the same chance they have of being tenured these days.

Curators and preschool teachers share something in common. Both have only a 0.7% chance of being automated. So if you want some guaranteed employment, try one of those jobs. Or a high school teacher, with only a 0.8% chance. Or elementary school with only a 0.4% chance.

Strangely enough, middle school teachers have a 17.4% chance of being automated, so I guess in the future lots of children will be taught by humans for a few years, then some by machines, then most by humans again. I’m glad I won’t be a child again.

And you archivists? A 75.9% chance, so it’s really not worth bothering about as a new career.

On the other hand, it could be worse. Bank tellers? 98.3% chance of being automated. In fact, I thought they already were. I can’t remember the last time I saw a bank teller.

Your best bet is to become a chief executive or some other sort of administrator, which all have low chances of being automated. The future will be a bunch of chief executives commanding machines to do their bidding. I don’t know what the rest of us will be doing, but it probably won’t be fun.


Please note that new comments for all posts on this blog have been closed.


  1. My wife is a minister .8% chance. I guess robots don’t like getting called at 4 a.m. that someone has died in some horrible way and the robot’s vacation has to be canceled.

  2. Only a 3.2% chance for college professors? Funny, back in college I would’ve guessed that a lot of my profs were automated already.

    I also appreciate this helpful disclaimer: “The researchers admit that these estimates are rough and likely to be wrong.”

  3. noutopianlibrarian says:

    The percentages are likely to be wrong, but the direction is unmistakeable. It was not so many years ago that it took a skilled professional librarian to access reference information, whether in databases or in print. Now most people do it themselves. Decades ago, catalogers created much, if not most, of the cataloging themselves. Now shared databases of information mean that non-professional staff “create” far more access in far less time. Even story times for children can be loaded online and far more access with much less staff time involved is possible. Standing orders and patron-driven demand (using online forms) have partially replaced collection development. The list of machine replacement for library skills is long and growing. The transformations to come will be even more far reaching and while many niches and new areas of opportunity will be there for librarians, management is the primary professional skill that is likely to remain relatively intact. Other skills will continue to erode with fewer people using more powerful technologies to serve library users. Whether 68% or 47% will be replaced in 20 years is someone’s educated guess. That there won’t be as many librarian jobs is pretty much assured.

  4. Joneser says:

    Huh. Our system has much less to offer in terms of materials, technology, website, locations . . . you name it, than the behemoth next door. Yet we are always hearing about how they like US better, even if they reside next door. Why? The personal touch. You get rid of most of that, you get rid of the value-added, even with fancy technology. Online storytimes replacing a real person? Trust me, those kids won’t be getting into Harvard.

  5. Timothy says:

    Management won’t remain intact: library management is largely symbolic in its functions, at least in this country. If you look at the small, rural libraries, you see a large number of people, all making best practice decisions, which tend to result in services identical to each other. If that’s the outcome, then why not have a small group of people make those decisions, and redeploy the many, many managers we have, one or more per service, who are all reinventing the wheel?

    (Not representing my employer.)

  6. noutopianlibrarian says:

    @Joneser – I feel what you’re saying about the personal touch, and know that this is true…for some people. I share this to some extent – I buy groceries at a small local market where I know the people there by name (and vice-versa) rather than a big, less expensive supermarket – but there are reasons that the supermarkets are many and mega-sized while the local markets are fewer and fewer as time goes on – most people don’t care about the personal touch for most things. If they did, our culture would reflect that as a primary value but I don’t see it. As for whether a person might go to Harvard if they watched or listened to online story-times, that’s interesting speculation. I can only say that the college my oldest went to was recently ranked the #4 private college in the U.S. (different ranking show different results but all are high) and she never went to any library story time, online or otherwise. I would love it if evidence ever emerges that going to story time contributes to attending Harvard – libraries would certainly get the funding they need just to make available more story times!

    @Timothy. You may be right – LSSI is an example of centralizing a good deal of library management decision-making. I’m not convinced that LSSI is a very successful model but if more and more library services are technology, rather than people-mediated, that trend would tend to mean fewer managers would be necessary. I don’t foresee libraries or librarians fading away, I do foresee our numbers declining and our skills being transferred to less skilled people or eliminated, often with technological change as a key factor, and this is before intelligent agents emerge as a significant technological innovation, which I suspect is on the horizon.

    For some, their personal touch may come from from a robot one day, even in libraries.

  7. Sarah K says:

    “Even story times for children can be loaded online”

    Yeah, provided every single book, song, and rhyme involved is in the public domain. I’m sure the 1900 edition of “Little Black Sambo” is going to go over GREAT.

  8. noutopianlibrarian says:

    @Sarah K – sorry, I didn’t note Little Sambo among these few of many library streaming storytimes:!kids/cvlg (Mr. Jason’s online stories)
    and my favorite that I came across:

  9. Nice article 321, I fell the same way about Dotnet as this guy explained on TED

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