Mobile devices change the way medicine is taught, learned and practiced: that’s a great challenge for libraries

Interactive map of mobile technology projects at medical libraries & medical schools all around Europe

Recently, I was invited to sum up all incentives on mobile technology in our subject area for the summer issue of the Journal of EAHIL. The resulting monographic section was published as Use of mobile devices in medical libraries and medical schools. Alltogether 14 projects were listed throughout Europe.

Actually, the title for the introduction was a two sentences sum-up: „Mobile devices change the way medicine is taught, learned and practiced. That’s a great challenge for libraries“. (PDF) The papers in this special issue on mobile technologies have one thing in common. They all agree that “smartphones and tablet computers have become the new cultural ‘norm’ within personal and professional lives”. Especially tablets are used to enhance teaching, learning and practice of medicine. As you learn in this issue, some European medical schools have already recognized the value of tablet computers in learning and loan them or present them as a gift to students. Six from eight contributions regard tablets, which reflects pretty much the use we all recognize in lectures, libraries, on the ward, on the go. As students use tablets for learning and looking up information, it is clear that this will affect libraries too.

What may the future hold for medical librarians in the age of mobile devices as the new cultural norm?

Some reacted or pro-acted by lending tablet computers, recommending apps, licensing content, or training students in order to make the best of these devices. Some medical libraries have even developed their own apps or written designated iBooks, some – with the help of engaged faculty – are embedding tablets and contents into the curriculum. The projects in this issue present a wide range of interventions in terms of embedding mobile devices and technologies in medical libraries and schools for the sake of the medical education process.

Featured Original Article

  • Enhancement or replacement? Understanding how legitimised use of mobile learning resources is shaping how healthcare students are learning Fuller R Joynes V, p 7
  • Mobile technologies and medical education at Heidelberg University Library Gehrlein S, p 11
  • Design, development and implementation of a mobile learning strategy for undergraduate medical education Toro-Troconis M, Morton C, Bennie T, Leppington C, Hemani A, Lupton M, p 14
  • The Branch Library of Medicine Münster created a tablet toolbox for embedding mobile digital learning resources into the curriculum Obst O, p 21-22
  • Re-inventing the e-book: how tablets increased e-book take-up at Bern University Bissels G, p 23
  • From pilot to practice: iPads at the University of Helsinki Faculty of Medicine Masalin T, p 27
  • What are the attitudes of F1 doctors in Prince Philip Hospital towards their use of the iDoc app? Bruch S, Paget T, p 32
  • Abandoning native apps to become future friendly, Jergefelt M, p 36

These articles were published in JEAHIL, Issue 2, 2015

Watch Repairer, Taxi Driver, Librarian: How threatened are our jobs in the digital age?


For 702 different jobs, the Oxford researchers Frey and Osborne examined the degree of susceptibility to computerisation. With a probability of 65%, the occupation “librarian” was calculated as quite good computerisable (1). How does this translates into the reality of our daily work? Do we now all have to be anxious for our jobs? Fearing that our jobs will get lost? That libraries get extinct?

Yes and No. Let’s take a closer look at the evidence: 1. The Oxford study was published in September 2013. Since then, 11 libraries were closed in Germany. That’s less than 0,1% of the 14.300 German libraries. And the number of employed librarians isn’t shrinking either. 2. The usage of libraries are steady or even increasing as well as 3. the budgets. These three observations are a good indication of the lasting attractiveness of libraries. But what about the attractiveness of librarians? For sophisticated library tasks we are desperately looking for candidates, but simple library jobs may definitely be threatened.

To understand this more clearly, let’s take a look at some other occupations examined by the Oxford researchers: The Watch Repairers and the Taxi Drivers will both be replaced with a probability of 99% and 98% resp., but the Recreational Therapists and the Computer Systems Analysts are totally safe jobs (p<1%). And this is the key message of the report: Watch Repairers and Taxi Drivers do routinely, simple work, which could be easily replaced by automation (watch building/repairing robots) or smart algorithms/services (Google cars, UBER service). On the other hand, the Recreational Therapist and the Computer Systems Analyst are so highly individual and innovative tasks, that nobody can think of a computer algorithm or robot to replace them. We as librarians are somewhere in between these two work groups. Some of us already perform highly ambitious tasks, and some of us do routinely simple tasks. The hypothesis of a two-class system in librarianship is supported by the higher susceptibility to computerisation of “Library Assistants” (95%) and “Library Technicians” (99%) in contrary to the normal “Librarian” (65%). (1)

Is your fate predestined then? One way to success, the other to extinction? Yes and No. There is no such thing as Kharma in librarianship. You can switch to other, more future-ready tasks by your capabilities, training or both. Each and any boss would be happy for such a staff member especially in the present days of rapid change. But: If you work in the acquisition or circulation department it could be somewhat harder. Then you are definitely on the wrong track. Acquisition and cataloguing will be the first tasks to become centralised on a regional or national level; circulation and stacking will be automated by robots resp. replaced by digital content. So my advice would be: If you are in one of these dead ends, ask for transfer to the reference or teaching department or apply for project management for centralisation and automation (remember: be the hammer not the nail).

If you change to the more specialised things such as rare books, that would be really smart. Be sure to collaborate with G.L.A.M. (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums). And if you do old books, mix this up with the latest technology, such as the Bavarian State Library did, which gives away the Gutenberg Bible for free on an iPad.(2) And if you are in reference, become specialised. Don’t do the routine questions, which could easily be automated (Google) or centralised (nation-wide reference), but the ones which are local, customized, cunning, and of high priority. You will find a list of specialisations in the references (3).

Be open-minded in everything (especially the needs of your users) and get trained, trained, trained. Not only by the usual library instructors, but by the very experts in the field, world-wide, which are often no librarians (any more). And do not forget research. For academic libraries, it’s the core of success. For instance, researchers do not have a clue of data management and if they had, they would love a librarian to do it for them, as the computer scientist Daniel Lemire said: “So I think that librarians should move on to more difficult tasks. For example, we badly need help with what I would call “meta-science”. For example, we have collections of papers that refer back to data sets. These data sets are typically poorly hosted, partially replicated, and so on. We badly need to clean up this mess. We need data object identifiers. We need help tracking data sets, their transformation and so on. In effect, I would push librarians into data science. That’s
the next frontier.” (4)

To sum-up, let’s quote Marc Andreessen, the famous internet entrepreneur: „The spread of computers and the Internet will put jobs in two categories: People who tell computers what to do, and people who are told by computers what to do.“ (5)


  1. 1. Frey CB, Osborne MA. The Future Of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs To Computerisation? [Internet]. 2013 Sep 17 [cited 2015 Aug 30] Available from:
  2. Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. Famous Books – Treasures of the Bavarian State Library [Internet]. 2012 Jun 25 [cited 2015 Aug 30] Available from:
  3. Obst O. The Librarian of the Future. Journal of the European Association for Health Information and Libraries 10(4):24-25 (2014)
  4. Lemire D. Commentary to John Duouis: An Open Access thought experiment. [Internet] Confessions of a Science Librarian 2012 Aug 29 [cited 2015 Aug 30] Available from
  5. Mims C. How the internet is making us poor. Quartz 2013 Mar 3 [Cited 2015 Aug 30] Available from:

Foto: (c) Shrimpgraphic at

Published in Journal of EAHIL 2015; Vol. 11 (2): 51-56

The Librarian of the Future


Who do you think “Librarians of the Future” are? How would they behave and what would they look like? In my imagination they are like a space hero, a Flash Gordon-like figure with almost magical cyber librarian skills nobody ever had heard of. But hold on – many of us practice such skills already. Every time I listen to some of my colleagues from abroad I’m deeply astonished about the diversity of tasks they perform, the services they have invented, and the kind of non genuine library task they manage. (Maybe that’s the reason why every year I’m more content to be a librarian, and I cannot imagine a more powerful and amazing work.) Let me demonstrate some of the tasks and skills that I have come across:

  • Authority for tablet computers, e-book readers, and respective apps (medical as well as productive). Handles mass sync and restore of hundreds devices as well as volume purchases of apps with casualness;
  • Budgetary expert and fund raiser. The library budget is not set in stone; if you want to develop interesting projects, you have to look for money, write proposals, and know how to take money out of the pockets of your boss;
  • Embedded librarian. Show up at the point of care, support doctors and nurses, looking for clinical outreach, being liaisons, and acting at roadshows;
  • Impact firefighter. Performing scientometric analyses on the spot. An expert in every kind and database of measuring impact. Know your h-index in sleep;
  • Lawyer with a profound knowledge in copyright, plagiarism, and detection tools. Negotiates publication rights with publishers;
  • Lecturer for group and personal training to create a positive climate that encourages team building and openness for change;
  • Lobbyist and networker at task forces, Faculty Boards, Deans, committees, advisory boards, both inside and outside the organization;
  • Marketing manager for user needs assessment, performing SWOT analyses, doing surveys, interviews, focus groups, public and customer relation, stakeholder reporting, and exploring the return of each Euro invested in the library for the organization;
  • Master of Medical Education, multimedia, and e-learning. Web sites, magazines and leaflets are an important part of library marketing, so librarians could be journalists, editors, designers. They could be lectures, presenters, and motivators as well. For example, the Cushing Library at Yale has an instructional design librarian employed, who helps faculty with their video lectures (see picture above);
  • Program manager of Open Access, technical manager of Open Access repositories, press person for publishing on demand, expert in megajournals and APCs; (1)
  • Teaching librarian. Deeply embedded into the curriculum, he teachs each and every customer at each and every occasion; he masters lecturing and is the gate keeper for information literacy at his organization;
  • The Visionary develops enthusiastically strategies for the library of the future and experiments like crazy(2).

The demand for such sophisticated tasks is extremely high and often faculty members regard librarians as skillful experts for many of these tasks, as the computer scientist Daniel Lemire noticed:

So I think that librarians should move on to more difficult tasks. For example, we badly need help with what I would call “meta-science”. We need help tracking data sets, their transformation and so on. In effect, I would push librarians into data science. That’s the next frontier. In science, we badly need help from people whose main goal is not to contribute new quanta, but rather keep track of what is happening. Students are awful at managing documents, citing them, finding relevant work, and so on. I think that a lot of librarians already help, but we might need what I would call “teaching librarians”. I have yet to see a librarian on a Ph.D. committee in science, but I think it could be a good idea. (3)

It is my sincere hope that librarians will always be open for such honorable expectations and never fail.


  1. Frank Norman: Megajournals [ accessed] Nov, 11th 2014
  2. T. Scott Plutchak: Breaking the barriers of time and space: the dawning of the great age of librarians. J Med Libr Assoc. Jan 2012; 100(1): 10–19. [] accessed Dec, 11th 2014
  3. Daniel Lemire: Let us be clear. August 29, 2012 [] accessed Nov, 11th 2014
  4. Brandon A.N. Academic status for medical school librarians. Bull Med Lib Assoc. 1970 Jan;58(1):1–6
  5. []

Foto: myfuturedotcom 6052488441 at

This article will be published in JEAHIL, Issue 4, 2014

I recently came across a citation from Alfred Brandon (4) describing (purely coincidentally of course) exactly the same things I had discovered:

Today the typical medical librarian must be an administrator, educator, researcher, collector, public servant, fund raiser, accountant, architect, psychologist and public relations expert. With this enlightened viewpoint in mind, I object to being classified as the stereotyped librarian of twenty-five years ago. I object to following outmoded policies and procedures. I object to the status quo attitude and lack of experimentation and desire on the part of some for improved methodology for librarianship.