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The Future of Reference in an Age of AI

by | Nov 13, 2023 | 0 comments


Kathryn Earle, Managing Director, Bloomsbury Digital References noted that we have witnessed a shift in reference which comes from the hybrid nature of what we do. Here are some factors impacting reference

Commercial logic is under pressure; there is a resistance to digital. It is hard to attract authors because they are time pressed. Doing reference, authors do o’t get credit towards promotion, tenure, etc. Inflation has driven price increases but print sales have declined. Digital print sales have increased in the last several years.

Damon Zucca from Oxford University Press said that generative AI will replace some reference work, but it will offer new opportunities for publishers. Reference has already been eclipsed by technology., but there has been a net use of reference materials. We are good at motivating groups of experts . What content types are we commissioning? New reference doesn’t call itself reference. It’s often hiding in plain sight. It is specialized, offers contextual guidance, and is selective, It is often hiding in plain sight. The core competency of reference publishers is not their ability to produce content. Instead, it is their ability to mobilize groups of experts. General reference publishing is disappearing: why use a reference work when you can generate a list of references online? Human generated reference can help with reference integrity. The line between reference and original scholarship blurs.It is too early to make definitive predictions about what will happen with reference publishing.

James Wiser, Dean of Libraries, Abilene Christian University, said that AI the most recent death of (reference) librarianship: Everyone thinks AI will change everything, and they are right. Librarians should play with AI systems. Here are 3 ideas for librarians:

  • Be humble with your predictions.
  • Human publishers still matter.
  • AI will not displace libraries, but it may displace some librarians.

It’s 1995 all over again, and it’s exciting. Scholarly communication will be changed, so it is important to think about this and how it will impact our students. Human publishers allow information to be synthesized, but what information? To what degree does a publisher want to licence a Large Language Model? Everyone is creating their own AI tool which is concerning because it will lead to discovery system wars. Reference librarian functions must change; if a student uses an AI system, they will not need a reference librarian any more. Don’t be afraid to let AI kill some sacred cows; if we don’t do it, somebody else will.

Sylvia Miller, Director, Scholarly Publishing and Research Development, Duke University described a reference data set for AI: AI has done a lot for the medical field; we need to try and improve AI’s knowledge and capabilities because future generations are watching us. AI has already used Wikipedia. What is special about reference content? Each article is a tutorial serving as a bridge between experts and non-experts and an interface to a curated body of information. It is only a mater of time before AI companies recognize reference. It is important to form a collective vision of the world we want to live in and then work on creating it. Librarians, publishers, aggregators and AI companies should be partners.

Don Hawkins, Conference Blogger



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