5 Ways Artificial Intelligence Is (Quietly) Changing Librariesby@zacamos
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5 Ways Artificial Intelligence Is (Quietly) Changing Libraries

by Zac AmosApril 6th, 2024
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So far, AI has changed libraries by streamlining librarian workflows, improving interactivity for visitors, providing librarians with opportunities to teach critical thinking, training librarians for future tech use, and updating class curriculums.
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Libraries were not among the earliest adopters of artificial intelligence (AI), but more are increasingly using the technology in various ways. Librarians have found it can improve people’s experience and make their jobs a bit easier. What changes has AI made so far?

1. Streamlining Librarians’ Workflows

Some institutions quickly provided resources explaining how library professionals and others could use artificial intelligence. Northwestern University offers a continually updated resource list for its librarians and faculty. It’s an excellent starting point for people open to trying AI but still need to figure out how to get started.

Elsewhere, an Iowa school district complied with recently enacted state laws about banned books using AI to determine which titles to pull. Officials removed 19 titles from school libraries due to the books’ sexual content. Authorities pointed out that classroom and school libraries have huge collections sourced in various ways. It’s unfeasible to read every page and look for content outside of what the law permits.

AI tools can also remove unwanted objects from photographs. Those are convenient for librarians who want to edit images before publishing them on social media or elsewhere.

2. Improving Interactivity for Visitors

Some libraries also use AI to enhance the visitor experience and make it more interactive. Singapore’s Central Public Library has an Immersive Room where people can use a generative AI-based tool to create interactive stories. They select the characters, genre and location while working within the parameters of six popular tales. The story is then displayed across a wall of six curved panels. Patrons can take them home to enjoy later by scanning QR codes and downloading them to their devices.

China’s Changning Library has capitalized on interactivity, too. A human avatar equipped with a recommendation algorithm scans people’s library cards or faces to get their reading histories and suggest relevant titles. Robots then deliver those books to patrons. The library introduced these AI features in the autumn of 2022.

Between then and August 2023, library visitors have used them more than 20,000 times, indicating their popularity. Besides using artificial intelligence, staff members can rely on internal data in numerous ways customers will appreciate. Digging into data to learn more about community demographics or favorite titles can show library professionals where and how to spend their resources.

3. Providing Librarians With Opportunities to Teach Critical Thinking

Although artificial intelligence can do some incredible things, it’s not perfect. Generative AI tools sometimes offer wholly incorrect information that users might treat as factual.

The information sounds accurate, but this problem can become dangerous when people don’t know better. Librarians are well-positioned to help them recognize and work with AI’s shortcomings.

With its nearly century-long history, Sharjah Library is the United Arab Emirates’ oldest. It harnessed digital technologies in 2020 by offering all its online resources to the public. The collection includes 5 million academic titles, 160,000 e-books and 30,000 videos. That digital transition caused a 70% increase in library membership.

Library director Eman Bushulaibi believes that although AI and other technologies have brought changes, libraries will always have value as locations for exchanging and gaining knowledge. Bushulaibi and her staff create safe spaces where people can use and develop tools to think critically about the information they come across.

4. Exploring the Technology’s Future Role in Libraries

Most career paths require professionals to adapt. Those working in libraries have recently experienced that as AI tools became more accessible. Technology has spurred many changes in libraries, ranging from architectural and aesthetic changes to radical shifts in education and research capabilities.

A University of Texas at Austin program aims to reduce the learning curve. The grant-backed initiative will train nine doctoral students for three years to help them bring artificial intelligence and data science to libraries.

This effort came about due to feedback from librarians and library science students getting assistance from tech experts. They said those with technical know-how often lacked the experience and knowledge of working in libraries.

This three-year program will put those with AI and data science backgrounds in public, academic, and school libraries to give them much-needed perspectives. It relies on a rotation-based approach inspired by medical students' training in real-world environments.

It’s too early to say how libraries might use artificial intelligence in five years. However, program participants could gain information to shape that future.

5. Updating Class Curriculums

Many libraries offer free or low-cost classes to community members, which are taught by librarians, visiting scholars, and others. Whether someone wants to improve their language skills, learn fitness tips, or prepare for college, there’s a good chance libraries have themed events to help. Some librarians have examined how they could use AI tools to update their teaching methods.

Lauren Todd has over a decade of experience as an engineering subject librarian at Washington University in St. Louis. Her job often allows her to go into engineering classes on campus and help students realize how the library’s resources could assist with their assignments.

When teaching the students of a mechanical engineering and material design class, Todd found ChatGPT helped learners quickly locate the standards engineers must follow. Some learners created prompts to determine the relevancy of specific standards to their design projects.

Todd acknowledges that ChatGPT is imperfect but can make library research less frustrating for people needing highly specific information. There’s no centralized database of engineering standards, so even seasoned librarians need significant time to find ones that may relate to students’ coursework.

Librarians Can Identify the Best Use Cases

These are some of the most appropriate ways to use artificial intelligence in libraries. However, more will undoubtedly emerge as the technology becomes more advanced and accessible. Library professionals can apply their skills and knowledge to decide which applications best suit their work and library visitors’ needs and which need further improvements to make them worthwhile.

People who work at, use, or have other relevant associations with libraries must keep their minds open during this period of significant change. AI will allow people to do things differently, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they should. Individuals must use their knowledge and the advice of trusted individuals to determine whether artificial intelligence enhances certain library-related tasks.