How Can AI Be Used in Libraries?

AI-generated image of a robot walking between the stacks of a library.

As artificial intelligence continues to grow by leaps and bounds, how is AI technology manifesting itself in our public, academic, and school libraries?

AI-Powered Patron Assistance

Library digital services contain an amalgam of third-party e-media collections and software solutions, which we try to present as a unified library experience. While libraries have experimented (and continue to experiment) with using AI-powered chatbots ourselves, many of our vendors are increasingly rolling out sophisticated, patron-facing solutions. For example, library digital content distributor Overdrive now employs AI-assisted support to answer patron service FAQs.

In the near future, such vendor provided chatbots will become both increasingly commonplace and capable. Between these offerings, and the development of library-administered AI services that are likely to follow, an umbrella of 24/7 patron assistance options should continue to expand.

Marketing & Design Tools

Possessing limited marketing budgets, libraries often struggle with securing quality stock images and graphics. With the rise of automated image theft software, the use of graphics sourced from an internet search can be risky, even when the content purports to be copyright free! AI-generated images can provide a good on-demand option, and are especially useful when your need is an esoteric one! Canva’s Text-to-Image Generator is an add-on to software already popular with libraries, while CraiyonMidjourney, and other options exist. Even as text-to-image generators evolve, work is rapidly progressing on AI-generated video options!

AI-generated image of a robot reading a book at a desk inside a library. There is a large book stack in the background.
Created via Canva’s Text to Image app, powered by Stable Diffusion, using the text prompt “A robot working at the reference desk of a public library.”

Library Programs and Services

As with any emerging technology, the library has an important role in navigating disruption within our communities. Libraries can offer lecture-style programs helping patrons to understand the basic concepts of AI, its common uses, and the ethical debates surrounding the technology. We can also provide hands-on opportunities to utilize AI image generators, chatbots (such as ChatGPT), and even to train an artificial intelligence using Google’s Teachable Machine.

Libraries have long taught media literacy. The rise of AI is both a challenge and an opportunity in this regard. As critical consumers (and referrers) of information, library staff must familiarize themselves with the new tools of the trade, which now includes discerning deepfakes and identifying AI-generated textual content (particularly important in school/academic settings). As these skills are learned and put to use in reference services, they must also be taught to our users. As students engage with AI-powered chatbots capable of writing reports, librarians (and educators more generally) will need to determine how to coexist with such tools in a learning environment.

ChatGPT as a Brainstorming / Troubleshooting Tool

AI bot ChatGPT has many staff-facing applications within a library setting. Some library staff may fall into the role of an accidental web-designer; ChatGPT can provide simple code from a text prompt, as well as troubleshoot existing sections of code. Posing a question to AI may generate a list of suggestions and arguments that are often a good starting point for tackling day-to-day problems. ChatGPT can also be an excellent antidote to writer’s block, generating a starting point for a report that you can refine. Finally, while it may come as a shock, library managers may on occasion find themselves having to compose fairly rote memos! ChatGPT can rather effectively turn a few bullet points into a functional staff memo/email which can be lightly edited to match the tone and specific characteristics of your organization.

ChatGPT transcript. The original prompt was "Write a staff memo on the importance of clocking in on time.". The AI generated response is as follow: " Memo To: Staff From: Management Subject: Importance of Clocking In on Time We would like to remind all staff members of the importance of clocking in on time. Arriving to work on time is not only a matter of punctuality, but it is also a matter of professionalism and respect for your colleagues and the company as a whole. When staff members are late, it can cause delays and disrupt the workflow of the team. This can have a negative impact on our productivity and our ability to meet deadlines and serve our customers effectively. Additionally, being late can also be a safety issue. It is important that everyone is present and ready to begin work at the designated start time in order to ensure a safe and efficient work environment. We ask that all staff members make every effort to arrive to work on time, and if an unavoidable delay is expected, please inform your supervisor as soon as possible. We appreciate your commitment to punctuality and professionalism and look forward to working together as a team to achieve our goals. Thank you, Management"
Generated via ChatGPT using the prompt “Write a staff memo on the importance of clocking in on time”.

Impacting Collections and Collection Development!

AI-powered collection development tools will soon find their way into libraries. These tools can offer deeper, more powerful insights into materials, utilizing the full text of titles in the creation of lexile scores and the performance of diversity audits. Looking to audiobooks, the comparatively low cost of AI narration is likely to increase the number of titles published annually–a situation that is both concerning for narrators while potentially beneficial to overall collection accessibility.

Until Next Time!

We have only just scratched the surface in the field of AI. The years to come will present both challenges and opportunities to libraries as we navigate the shifting sands of what promises to be an extraordinarily impactful technology!

I hope you’ve found this post useful. If you’re looking for a speaker for your event feel free to reach out! I cover emerging technologies, staff training, library tech trends, tech on a budget, change management, and more!

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