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Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Libraries

Whether we are on track to a golden age of technological advancement or on the path to a bleak dystopian future that Science Fiction cautioned us against is anyone’s guess, but the fact remains that advancement in Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology has skyrocketed over the past year. We all have our opinions on it, but it is here to stay regardless. Even though I personally have been claiming for years that that we should worry about the Robot Apocalypse way more than the Zombie Apocalypse, AI is still a useful tool when it comes to assisting humans with certain tasks. In fact, utilizing certain AI technology can improve experiences both for companies and consumers alike across a broad range of professions. This, of course, applies to libraries as well.

Did you know that AI is already in use at the library? One example can be found on Libby! Have you ever used the support chat box? That is powered by AI technology. Although chatbots do not replace the value of person-to-person interaction, they make it easier to answer frequently asked questions and quickly find documented solutions on websites. This frees up time for both patrons and staff by way of efficiency and saving time. With more complex issues, however, it may be more beneficial to speak with an actual human being. Yet there are many other parts of the library that can benefit from AI, including marketing, creator spaces, analytics, and collection development. With other tools such as text-to-image generators and automated system/retrieval systems—among other developing software—new opportunities to improve library spaces open up.

The Digital Librarian provides insightful ideas of how AI can be implemented in library settings, but also warns about potential drawbacks and areas of concern. Deepfakes and AI-generated textual content, for example, are issues that are becoming increasingly troublesome; being able to discern these from authentic content is crucial, especially in academic settings. There are pros and cons with the advancement of AI, as with most things, but that’s another discussion for a different day. For now, all we can do is work toward the ideal balance of adapting with technology while maintaining those critical interpersonal connections.

Some have even gone so far as to suggest non-staffed Smart Libraries, where everything is controlled remotely and patrons rely on personal digital assistants to find and retrieve materials. Then again, isn’t that just the Internet? What’s your opinion? To us, libraries are so much more than just finding resources. We are also a space that encourages creativity and innovation, learning something new and promoting literacy with in-person programs, and—most importantly of all—building community. AI is certainly a useful tool that can take our vision to the next level, but it shouldn’t be a replacement for human interaction; there is a balance somewhere.

The future is what we make it, after all.


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