AI & the Library: Looking for rules!

The age of AI necessitates that libraries develop policy and procedure governing the use of the technology by our institutions. As someone who has written a good deal of policy around emerging tech, two of my building blocks have always been federal/state/local law and the manufacturer or developer’s own terms of service. Any discussion of the law should include the significant disclaimer that I am no lawyer and that nothing I write should constitute legal advice! Now that that’s out of the way…

What does the law say?

Simply put, not much! Indeed one of the frustrations with AI is that the legal landscape is largely unsettled, with the American Bar Association noting

“the regulation of AI in the United States is still in its early stages, and there is no comprehensive federal legislation dedicated solely to AI regulation.”

While there may be little in the way of AI-specific guidelines, there are library-specific laws and regulations that we must consider, many at the state level, which address the confidentiality of patron records. In New York, for example, New York State Civil Practice Law & Rules (CPLR) 4509 states:

“Library records, which contain names or other personally identifying details regarding the users of public, free association, school, college and university libraries and library systems of this state, including but not limited to records related to the circulation of library materials, computer database searches, interlibrary loan transactions, reference queries, requests for photocopies of library materials, title reserve requests, or the use of audio-visual materials, films or records, shall be confidential and shall not be disclosed except that such records may be disclosed to the extent necessary for the proper operation of such library and shall be disclosed upon request or consent of the user or pursuant to subpoena, court order or where otherwise required by statute.”

When we contrast this confidentiality/nondisclosure requirement of reference queries against an AI tool such as ChatGPT’s propensity to record and retain all interactions/user content, it’s harvesting of personally identifiable information, and it’s wide use of 3rd-party services, we can see how it poses a data-security headache. While policy/procedure banning the use of such a tool may not be necessary, you must define appropriate use cases that will not compromise patron privacy and contravene existing law! Essentially, steps must be taken to ensure our interactions with such systems do not include personally identifiable information or anything that might constitute patron records.

ai-generated image of the scales of justice. The background is a futuristic setting.
Generated via Midjourney. Prompt: “color sketch of a futuristic scale of justice. –ar 16:9”.

What do the terms of service say?

The consideration of an AI platform’s terms of service (ToS) must factor into your library’s decision making. Previously, we looked at reconciling ChatGPT’s terms of use with existing state law. Further inspection of this document would indicate that users must be at least 13 years old to use the service, and that users under 18 years of age must have a parent or legal guardian’s permission. You can see the impact to potential library programming and patron-facing AI-powered services that this requirement might have.

Until next time!

While we may be operating in an AI regulatory vacuum, it is clear that there are established library rules and regulations that we can apply to this emerging technology. So get out there and do the important, necessary work of policy and procedure development, then experiment–safely!

Lastly, a few news items:

  • As always, I speak a lot about the intersection of libraries and technology. If you’re look for a speaker, let’s talk!
  • Previously, I assembled some AI resources for librarians. Check it out, if you haven’t already!
  • For my New York-based audience, I’ll be at the 32nd Annual Conference on Libraries and the Future to give the talk “Into the Unknown: Media Literacy, Intellectual Freedom, & the Dawn of AI”. You can learn more and register for the in-person event here.
  • I’ll be presenting “Fostering Tech-Savvy Staff” at the Internet Librarian Connect virtual conference. Register by September 15 with code SOC-SINGLE or SOC-TEAM to save $100!

A Resource List on AI in the Library

The talk around artificial intelligence and libraries can be exciting, frightening, and very confusing. Here’s a resource list on AI in the library to help you get started! These sources cover the impact of artificial intelligence on libraries, free courses on popular AI tools, and the early legislative action regarding AI and copyright.

Getting Familiar

These links provide an opportunity to consider where and how artificial intelligence might be applied within a library setting, as well as a “virtual petting zoo” where you can get hands-on.

Free Online Courses

Looking to train up on some of the more popular generative AI tools? Here are some good, free options!

AI and Copyright

AI remains largely uncharted territory with regards to copyright. These links look at some early guidance from the US Copyright Office (including decisions), and early regulatory work taking place in the United States and Europe.

Final Thoughts

Photo of Nick Tanzi speaking in a conference center. There is an audience in the foreground with their backs to the viewer.

I hope you’ve found these resources useful as we collectively plan for AI’s impact on library services. I talk a lot about the intersection of emerging technologies and libraries (AI included); you can find a list of my upcoming appearances here. If your organization is in need of a keynote speaker or some library professional development, feel free to reach out! Finally, I now have on-demand training available through Niche Academy.

Libraries, Tech, & Public Health

Public libraries and public health have long been intertwined, with technology helping to facilitate the pairing. Let’s explore the past and present, as we chart a course for the future.

Spotlight on 3D Printing

The early days of the COVID-19 pandemic saw shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE). In some communities, library 3d printing capability was able to address this deficit. In New York, the Suffolk Cooperative Library System (SCLS) partnered with Stony Brook University’s iCreate Lab to manufacture face shields for medical workers at Stony Brook Hospital. At one point, more than 100 printers were located at SCLS, printing 250 headbands a day! Over the course of this partnership, 5,000 face shields were assembled and delivered to the hospital, helping meet a critical need.

As libraries returned to in-person service, 3d printing technology continued to be employed, providing patrons with “hands-free” door openers, face mask holders, and other solutions.

Library of Things

Many libraries offer a myriad of equipment, toys, tools, and gadgets, often referred to as a “library of things”. Health equipment continues to be a growing portion of these collections. Many Suffolk County Libraries have partnered with the American Heart Association to lend blood pressure monitors, along with accompanying logbooks and referral information/resources. At the North Scituate Public Library, their medical lending kits include pulse oximeters and infrared thermometers. With the continued development of health technologies, there will be new opportunities for libraries to expand their lending services.

Virtual Reality and Mental Health

Between the well-documented adverse effects of social media, and pandemic-related stress and isolation, teen mental health has been under duress. Enter virtual reality and libraries, with a spotlight on VRtality describes itself as

“an initiative funded in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, is an innovative program focused on supporting positive teen mental health through the co-design of a virtual reality experience. It is a customizable program that library staff can leverage to build real relationships with teens in their local community.”

The experiences that are designed serve two functions; the act of creation is a soothing experience, while the final product can be experienced by others, itself relieving stress.

Until Next Time!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post! I plan on talking more about the role libraries can play in the health of their communities in a future follow-up, with an eye toward telehealth services. As always, if you’re looking for a speaker for your event feel free to reach out! I cover emerging technologies, artificial intelligence, staff training, library tech trends, tech on a budget, change management, and more! You can also view some of my past and upcoming events.