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

My first ever CILIP Conference and on my favourite topic of emerging technologies. It was hot on the topic of artificial intelligence (AI), ethics and data (bias, provenance and so on). A good selection of talks that one could attend and numerous display stands by suppliers was all on offer.

Welcome and keynote address – Nick Poole and Bill Thompson  

Nick Poole welcoming all guests and Tiney Padiwa in the frame too
Nick Poole welcoming all guests at Rewired 2023 with Tineyi Padiwa in frame

A warm welcome by CILIP’s CEO Nick Poole, who gave us a question to ponder on throughout the day – “What does a rewired library of the future look like?” This was swiftly followed on by a keynote speech by Bill Thompson - journalist, commentator and technology critic from the BBC. Bill’s speech was on AI and its impending impact to libraries, which he compared to how Google “affected/impacted” General Practices 15 years ago.

He further described two classes of AI, which he called discriminative AI and generative AI. He also went on to highlight the term “computational rationality” to refer to AI as coined in the book: Artificial intelligence by Stuart Russell and Peter Norvig. Interesting to note that, as we are excited/consumed with AI, we are also facing a climate emergency and our “hopes” of AI transforming our lives may not materialise due to climatic issues! 

Bill went on to point out that, AI has been in use for over 70 years, giving examples: in systems used for image enhancement, network data analysis, cyber threat detection and indeed in wildlife monitoring cameras such as those used by the BBC on the programmes like Springwatch. He further gave caution that AI can have biased models, which can produce inaccurate outputs or be used to for excessive surveillance and indeed are bringing a fundamental challenge to education and assessment.  

Bill Thompson as he started his presentation on 'Suffering an AI Change' at Rewired 2023
Bill Thompson as he started his presentation on 'Suffering an AI Change'

A series of interesting but thought provoking questions to ponder on and I kept coming back to these:  

  • the information ecosystem, like many beaches, is being polluted - how do you operate in a dirty sea of disinformation? (What can we do about this as information professionals?) 

  • are AI outputs admissible in your library collections? 

  • what are the consequences of the great re-indexing? 

Bill’s conclusion was a massive rallying call to all librarians – to start engaging with the new capabilities of AI; decide how they work for us, and not let others decide what our future should be. 

Bill’s full presentation is available on his blog

Future of Library technology – Thomas Shaw, Emma Adamson, Ken Chad 

I then had the pleasure of attending more presentations by Thomas, Emma and Ken. Emma spoke about how the Welsh libraries are collaborating, sharing a singular Library management system (LMS) Home - WHELF Achievements and struggles were highlighted, and notable that they won the Times Higher Education Leadership and Management Awards in 2015. 

Ken had a lot to present on but time was very limited, however, he did his best to give us a whistle-stop tour of the different technologies in use by a variety of libraries (NHS, Public and academic). Colleagues from public libraries were encouraged to make use of Google ads to advertise their services as these can be free. Ken referred us to the Helibtech wiki, which has a host of useful materials. MS co-pilot amongst other applications was flagged up as one of the tools that can be of use to all librarians (I am yet to explore this). 

Other sessions attended with equal enthusiasm were as follows: 

Harnessing AI and machine learning – Sue Attewell, Mia Ridge, Daniel van Strien 

  • British Library project on digitisation and their pitfalls and successes 

  • Hugging Face Librarian presentation on making use of generative AI for systematic reviews 

Digital rights – Ben White 

Rewired 2023 sitting panellists – left to right: Thomas Shaw, Liz White, Bill Thompson, Sue Attewell and Nick Pool
Rewired 2023 sitting panellists – left to right: Thomas Shaw, Liz White, Bill Thompson, Sue Attewell and Nick Poole

“The cherry on the top of the conference presentations”: 

Ethics and emerging technologies – Nick Poole, Sue Attewell, Bill Thompson, Liz White and Thomas Shaw 

This final session presented in a panel discussion style, inviting questions and comments from the attending audience. Highlights were mostly on AI as well: 

  • the inherent subtle bias that AI has, it is only as good as the data it was trained on 

  • a mobile phone does not take a photo, but does a series of computations and produces what it “assumes” is a photo of oneself! 

  • academic assessments at some universities are to be done “on the go”, rather than at the end of a specified period 

  • are we heading for a Utopian or Dystopian society? One could say a Utopian one, until they scratch the surface! 

We ran out of time and the day was a breeze with a lot to unpack! 

Reflections and takeaways: 

Overall, this was a very informative day and a revelation on how fast paced AI is developing. There is as an obvious need to keep abreast with changes that will particularly affect librarians and libraries particularly those in the academic and health sector. Students are already making use of some of the AI tools to write essays or dissertations.

As librarians, we need to be prepared to support all our library members as they get to grips with AI. Obviously, there are lot of AI tools out there, but knowing the concepts behind them all will be a great place to start. Emphasis being on provenance, bias, timeliness and so on. It was a great opportunity to network with likeminded colleagues as well. 

Many thanks goes to NHS England for providing funds that enabled me to attend this conference and to Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust through my manager for allowing me to do so. 


Tineyi Padiwa

Deputy Head of Library Services

Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust