A series of reflections from the CILIP Libraries Rewired 2023 event.

The Libraries Rewired event took place on 10th November at CodeNode in London, with a dynamic programme dedicated to exploring key issues in the world of data, AI and digital solutions for libraries.

I was kindly given a bursary place to enable me to attend and learn as much as I could from this fantastic event, which I then intended to bring back to enrich and engage my team at Somerset Foundation Trust. This post touches on some of the key themes and learning from the day, and some of the great talks and discussions that took place.  

Nick Poole, CEO of CILIP, opened the conference with an inspirational statement of purpose – the aim being critically engaging with new technology, and not to lionise or demonise, but to explore the “art of the possible” and asking the key question- what does the rewired library of the future look like?  

An exciting keynote kickstarted the day, with Bill Thompson’s “Suffering an AI Change” stating that generative AI may do to libraries what Google did to GPs fifteen years ago – and we are not prepared. He incisively and delightfully analysed and dissected the key themes and concerns around generative AI in particular, and more broad application and uses of AI, linking to what this therefore means for libraries and librarians.

He posited that librarians would be the empathic and self-aware human agent in the information loop, and their role could include teaching information and data literacy skills to include AI awareness and being informed to provide answers for patrons whilst asking hard questions of providers.  

Next, a panel discussion featuring Thomas Shaw, Emma Adamson and Ken Chad discussed the “Future of Library Technology”, focusing on collaboration and future trends. Discussion highlights included the role of digital bravery and collaborative power, with Emma stating that innovation in libraries is not new, and Ken discussing the implementation of new roles and themes for user engagement.

The role of strategy and user experience (UX) is key – what problems are you trying to solve, and how does technology fit in? Most interesting was the statement that prompt engineering is a recasting of a library skill, involving creating and entering right input into a system to achieve the correct result. This reframing of developing skills within a broader library context and thus making it feel achievable and applicable was one of the strengths of the conference as a whole.  

A talk on “Digital Rights” with Ben White was further food for thought, especially in the context of #ebookSOS, the campaign to make the e-book market and e-lending rights fairer and more sustainable and accessible to libraries. Ben called for action in three main areas: giving legal guarantees to accessing and lending purchased or paid-for content; enabling libraries to digitise and lend a version of the paper book as an equivalent; and to have better functioning platforms and further research on the issue. 

The day concluded with a panel discussion with Nick Poole, Sue Attewell, Bill Thompson and Liz White, and focused on “Ethics and Emerging Technologies”. Topics included the inherent bias of generative AI and the need to challenge this insidious discourse, particularly in light of the growing decolonisation of library collections and inclusive acquisition and collection creation practices.

Guidelines and principles around the use of AI were discussed, including the position of academic institutions in negotiating the increasing usage of AI by students. Information and data literacy continued to be a theme, especially as a mode of empowering the digital citizen, who needed to be able to meaningfully consent to the use of their data by AI and other applications. Information literacy is therefore a key life skill in lifelong digital learning how to live in an AI enabled world, and the role of the librarian is to be there at every stage to provide informed help, resources and guidance to enable this empowerment.  

Overall, the event was a huge success, and certainly provided a host of knowledge which is ripe to be developed, shared and used in the health library setting. Learning from this event has already been compiled into a briefing paper which has become a knowledge asset to be shared with the team, who are already experimenting and testing generative AI tools for reliability and applicability for practical applications. It has provided a firm knowledge base and leaping off point for further learning, exploration and evolution of practice.  


April Curzons

Evidence Specialist

Somerset NHS Foundation Trust