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Using AI to Strengthen the Connection Between Technology and Scholarship

by | Apr 24, 2024 | 0 comments

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As more universities implement research and writing tools powered by AI, academic librarians are playing a central role.

By Roger Strong, Jr., vice president of Gale Global Academic Sales

Earlier this year, Arizona State University became the first higher education institution to collaborate with OpenAI, creators of ChatGPT. Meanwhile, academic librarians in other institutions are increasingly embracing artificial intelligence (AI). A recent survey published by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) found that 65% of librarians have a positive or very positive view of AI, and 72% of libraries are actively implementing or exploring potential applications of AI.

While these numbers suggest that librarians are finding ways to incorporate AI into their work, questions remain about how it will impact academic research and the ways in which librarians collaborate with instructors and students. Here’s a look at how librarians are using the technology and planning for an AI-enhanced future. 

Enlisting AI to Do Repetitive Tasks

AI is taking on menial tasks for workers and companies in many industries, and academic libraries are no exception. AI-powered chatbots are already helping reference librarians answer instructors’ and students’ questions, which can often be repetitive. Libraries, such as San Jose State University Library, have installed and trained an AI chatbot to answer the hundreds of questions librarians are frequently asked without negatively impacting the user experience. This could free up reference librarians’ time to focus on more detailed student questions that require additional thought and research. Librarians would also have more time to engage with faculty, building meaningful relationships that benefit everyone in the university, especially the students.

Many higher education librarians work in digital Special Collections, which house important archival documents and manuscripts. These librarians can use AI to tag digital items instead of doing so manually. According to a recent survey by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, 26% of libraries are using or plan to use AI for text and data mining support. In addition to saving librarians an enormous amount of time, using AI to tag Special Collections could also help libraries create those digital collections in a different and potentially better way. 

Teaching Others to Use AI Research and Writing Tools

In addition to answering questions, tagging archives, and helping students, librarians are educators. They’re often tasked with instructing students, faculty members, and researchers on the best avenues for researching a particular topic, so they’re the natural option for teaching those same people how to use AI research tools.

Leo Lo, Professor and Dean of the College of University Libraries and Learning Sciences at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, said, “The first step is for librarians to learn about these tools themselves, then target instructors and educators with a train-the-trainers approach. The instructor can then train their students and the public.”

As President-elect of the ACRL, Lo is setting up a task force to establish a set of AI competencies for library workers. In 2023, he surveyed academic librarians about their understanding of and questions about AI. He found that 45% moderately understood AI concepts and principles, and 74% underscored the urgent need to address potential ethical and privacy issues.

“Libraries have become a technology or innovation hub in some institutions, so it feels very natural to take on that role to help the rest of the university learn what I call ‘AI literacy,’” Lo explained. He believes that, instead of trying to stop students and instructors from using AI, higher education institutions should teach them how to use it in an intelligent and responsible way. 

Rusty Michalak, Director of the Hirons Library and Archives at Goldey-Beacom College, agrees with Lo, adding, “Our goal is to teach students to evaluate information. I use AI for information literacy, because we know that students are using these tools and are more engaged when they have something fun to play with. We show them how to write with Grammarly. We show them how to make connections with literature through Litmaps and AI knowledge graphs. We want to teach students how to use AI and automation tools like Obsidian and Hemingway properly, and how to use them for specific instances.” 

Transforming the Library into an AI Hub

The library is the conduit between information technology and content use, so as more universities embrace AI research and writing tools, libraries are becoming AI hubs where students and faculty can discover the best ways to use this evolving technology. When it comes to teaching students about scholarly communication, academic ethics, or fair usage of content generated or gathered using AI, libraries are playing an essential role.

Michalak said, “Teaching students how to use AI for responsible scholarship is part of our overall goal of teaching students how to evaluate information. For example, we can teach them how to create research questions and write outlines using ChatGPT, which will help them when it’s time to write their own ideas on paper.”

For the library to become an AI hub, university leaders need to be on the same page as librarians. That starts by understanding the impact of AI on libraries and librarians. According to the ARL survey, most library directors believe “AI will significantly enhance operational efficiency.” As with any significant technological change, though, people are worried about how their jobs will be affected. As Michalak said, “For many librarians, the biggest concern is, will we be left behind? I think that we are situated perfectly for being able to teach people informational literacy, which means we will always be part of the conversation.” 

Lo concurred, adding, “We need to move fast in order to be relevant.”

Roger Strong, Jr. is the vice president of Gale Global Academic Sales. He can be reached via LinkedIn.

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