How Can AI Be Used in Libraries?

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!

Library Tech Trends for 2023

As we head into 2023, I wanted to take some time to share a few of the library technology trends that I see taking shape.

Artificial Intelligence is Impacting Our Libraries

While some applications of AI in libraries may be bleeding edge, the technology is already making its impact felt, particularly in the areas of marketing and collections.

Transforming Library Marketing

  • AI design tools are here: AI-powered design software is affordable (sometimes free) and widely available. With a little practice, staff can now create high-quality digital art using new tools such as Midjourney and DALL-E, while even traditional design software like Canva now has an text-to-image feature! Full image creation aside, tools such as Gigapixel AI can upscale and enhance existing images. Collectively, this software can stretch limited marketing budgets, and safe significant staff time!
Photo of a poster created using an AI text-to-image tool. The poster has a robot pumpkin on the left, and a robot on the right. It reads "Okt-To-Con! Tuesday, October 11th from 6 to 9 pm. "​ Additional text on the bottom reads "Spooky stories, costumes, prizes, learning, engineering, fun!"​ The poster is laying atop a large format printer in an office.
Image credit: Chad Mairn, Innovation Lab | St. Petersburg College. Created using Midjourney.

Impact on Our Digital Collections

  • Smart speakers & virtual assistants: Smart speaker ownership continues to rise, and our patrons are increasingly turning to virtual assistants (such as Siri). As this happens, library digital collections will become more compatible with this technology, with patrons able to conduct voice searches for content, and perform core account functions (check out, place holds, renew items). Additionally, troubleshooting functionality from digital content providers (such as Overdrive), will be increasingly powered by AI/machine learning.
  • AI and audiobooks: AI audiobook narration continues to become more polished, and presents an affordable option for many publishers. While AI narration is concerning for audiobook narrators, it will allow for many more audio versions of books that would otherwise never be published–important for accessibility!

Increased “Zoomification”

The pandemic has resulted in a huge increase in the use of videoconferencing software such as Zoom. Businesses have pivoted to remote work environments, schools and higher education facilities have added distance learning to the mix, and millions of users have turned to the technology for personal use. Despite being sparked by COVID-19, this rapid adoption of this technology will continue to impact society long after the pandemic has faded away. What does this mean for libraries?

We Need to Accommodate Videoconferencing

  • Plan on building appropriate IT infrastructure: Patrons have long taken advantage of our libraries’ internet-connected devices and our public wifi. Videoconferencing can be a data-intensive activity, and library networks must be prepared to handle this increasingly commonplace online activity.
  • Supply necessary equipment: On library-provided computers/laptops, we should ensure that common videoconferencing software is preinstalled and updated regularly. Looking at hardware, library-owned devices should have webcams either built-in or as an accessory. Headphones should be available to users.
  • Supply appropriate space: While internet access is often provided in your library’s public space, a videoconference call can mean your patron is an active speaker. This can be problematic in shared/quiet space. As libraries continually reevaluate their spaces, give consideration to providing single occupancy “Zoom rooms,” or at least quiet, contained spaces with appropriate lighting, internet access, and sound-proofing. This leads me to my next point:
  • Address Telehealth: Much like business and education have been reshaped by the application of videoconferencing, so too has healthcare. Telehealth/telemedicine access is a matter of digital (and health) equity, and is an area that libraries are often well-positioned to address.

Virtual Reality and Workforce Development

Libraries have long assisted our patrons with career development; we help them prepare their resumes, provide reskilling opportunities, and offer access to career and small business resources in the form of collections, classes, and individual experts. Virtual reality offers a new and growing avenue for patrons both reentering the workforce, or entering it for the first time, as seen below.

Retraining for in-demand jobs: At the Clayton County Library System in Georgia, the library has partnered with Interplay Learning to provide free, immersive VR training for skilled trades, including plumbing, HVAC, and solar. These are in-demand, high wage jobs, meaning the library is able to take a more direct role in the economic development of its community.

Developing basic job skills: At the Employ NV Youth Hub & Teen Zone inside the West Charleston Library in Nevada, teens and young adults are given access employment and education programs. One component of this area is VR equipment set up to explore careers in healthcare, advanced manufacturing, IT, logistics, and skilled trades. This initiative has the potential to both prepare young people entering the workforce for the first time, as well as serve as a more immersive career interest experience.

Until Next Time!

Thank you for taking the time to read this spotlight on some of the technology trends I see impacting our organizations in the coming year! Before I sign off, I hope you’ll pardon these two shameless plugs:

  1. I love talking about the intersection between libraries and technology. If you’re looking for a speaker for a conference or professional development session–let’s talk!
  2. Consider adding Best Technologies for Public Libraries: Polices, Programs, and Services to your reading list. This book is a one-stop shop for libraries looking to add the most popular technologies and create best practices for their use.

The Advantages of Virtual Outreach for Libraries

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, libraries have explored the virtualization of programs and services, including their outreach efforts. In this clip from Computers in Libraries Connect 2022, I discuss some of the advantages virtual outreach presents over traditional library outreach.

Interested in further exploring the topic of virtual outreach? Check out this post on Connecting with Your Target Audience!