All posts by Richard Bridgen

Avoiding the toaster at the CILIP Employers Forum: artificial intelligence and libraries

On the 20th November 2018 I attended the CILIP Employers Forum. One of the talks was by Terry Corby on “Avoiding the Toaster! Meeting the challenge of disruptive innovation”. The toaster in the title was alluding to the idea that if we fail to deal with disruptive innovation, we will become “toast”.

Terry argued that automation is already here:

  • “60% of occupations could have 30% or more of their activities automated with current technology”
  • 20% of a CEO’s activities could be automated now
  • The cost benefits are between three and ten times the investment. Only human factors prevent it happening.
  • AI solutions tend to work best when they have a human element as well.

Examples he gave of good disruption were:

Many companies foresaw future disruption but failed to capitalise:

  • Kodak invented digital photography
  • Xerox invented the Graphical User Interface and the computer mouse.

Among Terry’s suggestions for how to operate in this environment were:

  • Seek out stakeholders who will insist on innovation.
  • Find out what your customer really wants and values.
  • Work on many innovations, expecting that most will fail, but some may greatly succeed.
  • Create a culture that encourages innovation and learning.
  • Completely master new skills if you can, or recognise when you can’t.
  • Be an outsider in new areas, not just an insider in your own.

Established companies are often at a disadvantage because they don’t recognise the threat and fear cannibalising their business

The challenge Terry laid down to librarians was that we had allowed search engines to roll over us, would we do the same for artificial intelligence? He doesn’t know our field and so had no answers, but he did call us to think these issues through for ourselves, and then we will avoid someone “eating our breakfast”.

Now over to you: what do you think? Leave a comment below.

Stephen Ayre

Emerging Technologies Group

We live an age of amazing technological advance. Predictions of what is just around the corner are many. But what are the implications for health librarians?

This group has been put together to keep an eye on possible future developments in technology and think about their implications for librarians in healthcare.  See the post ‘Introducing the Group’ for more information.

Previous posts have included:

The membership of the group is currently:

  • Stephen Ayre (George Eliot Hospital) [Chair]
  • Richard Bridgen (Health Education England)
  • YiWen Hon (Royal Marsden Hospital)
  • Trish Lacey (Public Health England)
  • Catherine Micklethwaite (Torbay and South Devon)
  • Ian Rennie (Cambridgeshire and Peterborough)

See the Emerging Technologies Group section of the Knowledge for Healthcare blog.

We’re looking to recruit new members for the group, so if this work interests and inspires you, please contact Stephen Ayre to join the group. Alternatively contact him to suggest a technology-related topic to look at.

What role for virtual reality in healthcare, and specifically, health libraries?

Most of us have probably heard about virtual reality (VR) through the lens of gaming.

By dronepicr (Gamescom Playstation VR Playseat) [CC BY 2.0(], via Wikimedia Commons
We’ve all seen the pictures of people wearing the headsets, totally immersed in a different world, shooting at zombies and aliens and anything else gamers get up to.
VR certainly has a more serious side. Take this next image for instance.
This is a researcher with the European Space Agency (ESA) exploring using VR for controlling planetary rovers and satellites in space. He can practice over and over again in a safe and secure environment before the real thing.
ESA [CC BY-SA 3.0-igo (], via Wikimedia Commons

As the above examples show, VR can be used to create simulated environments that exactly replicate real life environments to enable testing of methods and user interaction and learning. VR has a growing role in health medicine, whether in surgery, rehabilitation or education.

Take a couple of recent examples at Torbay Hospital. An intensive care patient broke his neck a few years ago, leaving him paralysed and unable to walk or grip with his hands. He was being slowly rehabilitated and was recently hooked up to Virtual Wembury, which enables the patient to virtually cycle through the village of Wembury in South Devon. The patient experiences changing scenery that speeds up as he goes faster, providing a more interactive experience. The patient’s time and distance is recorded, so when he next gets on the virtual bike he can compete against his previous day’s attempt. In human terms, this meant the patient was pushing himself to go further each time, whilst enjoying beautiful scenery and improving his mental wellbeing.

Torbay Hospital is also using VR to improve doctors and nurses’ understanding of the patient’s perspective. For example, a patient journey moving from an ambulance, into a resuscitation bay, and then into theatre is filmed in 3D. Doctors and nurses can study this to discuss the environment, the patient’s state of mind, staff actions and interactions, and how these can affect the patient. The advantage of 3D is that the medical professional can stop the video at any point, look around through 360 degrees and see what the patient sees. This has resulted in doctors having more empathy with their patients.

King’s College Hospital in London has created an app that helps take the fear out of MRI scans for children. In 3D virtual reality, it allows the child to experience the journey from arriving at reception to having the actual scan, along with the loud noises they would hear, from a safe location.

All of the above are fabulous innovations, but what do they have to do with health libraries?

The obvious one is offering VR as an additional learning method within the library. We all provide access to print and electronic books and journals, and often to anatomy software, but all of these are in 2D. What VR can offer is a more immersive experience in 3D. Think about trying to learn what the heart looks like in 2D, or as a static demonstration model. Wouldn’t it be better for students to be able to peel back layers of a body to get to the heart, to be able to walk around it and see it from different angles, see how it interacts with other component parts of the body that are fully labelled, and if they want, pull apart the heart to see what it looks like inside?

As the VR in hospitals examples highlight above, VR can significantly aid patient wellbeing, so why not for staff wellbeing as well? Many health libraries now offer a health and wellbeing section for their employees. VR can help staff escape from their workplace into a different world – whether it is immersing yourself in a garden and hearing the birds singing and water trickling in the pond to being outside on the moors and hearing the wind whistling around you, to moving around in a forest and examining all the local flora and fauna.