New from ACRL – “The Rise of AI”

ACRL announces the publication of The Rise of AI: Implications and Applications of Artificial Intelligence in Academic Libraries, book number 78 in the Publications in Librarianship series, edited by Sandy Hervieux and Amanda Wheatley. This book collects projects, collaborations, and future uses from academic librarians who have begun to embrace artificial intelligence (AI) in their work.

Learn more about The Rise of AI in this excerpt from the Introduction by the editors.


Artificial intelligence or AI, if you prefer, has been in the minds of researchers and dreamers alike for decades. It brings about connotations of science fiction and fantasy, but perhaps more importantly, of progress. After all, AI and progress go hand in hand. So where then does the academic library fit into the ever-growing expanse of artificial intelligence? The answer to this question was posed over forty years ago as librarians began to see the shift from automation to computer intelligence. Nearly half a century has been spent trying to prepare for a hypothesized takeover of librarian jobs. This fear would seem natural: librarians are information stewards, and some of the most brilliant technological advancements in the last hundred years have sought to open information access to an even broader public. The addition of AI to these advancements has made the information seeking process nearly unrecognizable from previous generations.

So, what exactly is artificial intelligence? The editors of this book provide a living definition that they believe stands true at this time; however, they recognize the fluidity of the field and the ability for this definition to change over time. Ask them again ten years after the publication of this book or even after a few months, if you prefer, and it is likely that the changing landscape of AI will have brought on new considerations to this definition. Nevertheless, for the purposes of this book, the editors define artificial intelligence as the development of machines to accomplish tasks and reproduce thought processes that are normally seen in humans; this simulation of intelligent behaviour is unique from other automation as it requires the computer to use human reasoning or thinking to perform tasks.

Along with AI, machine learning has quickly provided new solutions to information professionals. Machine learning (ML) is acknowledged as a subset of AI, though some scholars and scientists would argue it is its own field. The application of machine learning begins with its ability to learn from data and make decisions without the express intervention of a human. An ML algorithm can observe and detect patterns in data with the goal of being able to predict future decisions and outcomes from said data. ML learns as it goes and can adapt new stimuli into its decision-making process, much like that of a human. The advancement of ML technologies opens the door for endless possibilities for librarians to utilize these programs to classify, label, and organize information in an automated process. Some of these possibilities will be explored within the chapters of this book, providing innovative new ways to integrate machine learning and artificial intelligence into the work of librarians.

Much in the same way that Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press revolutionized the public’s access to information, artificial intelligence has done the same. Search engines and search algorithms are the printing press of the day. The monopolization of Google over information seeking and point-of-entry access has given millions the ability to seek out and discover information at rates heretofore unseen. The Google search engine has only been made more powerful by the improvements and inclusion of AI in its design. Without AI, a search engine is nothing more than a simple if/then statement. If the user searches for X, retrieve them Y. Of course, we all know that this is not how a search engine using AI functions. For most of the public, it is enough to understand that the code can interpret a semantic meaning for X, allowing the search engine to retrieve results for Y but also for Z. The proverbial AI black box allows users to grasp the concept that intelligent code exists within the box and that code can learn as it goes, similar to a human.

Librarians are uniquely positioned to rise to the challenge that AI presents to their field. Libraries and their like have existed for millennia; they progress with society, altering and adapting their services to meet the information needs of their communities. Academic libraries today have greatly expanded their digital offerings, not just to include electronic books or journal articles but also to support software application discovery and use. Some academic librarians might say they lack a foundational knowledge of AI or that they are ill-equipped to speak on the subject, and yet they have likely been interacting with AI through the different types of software applications they support. At the very least, they have encountered and mastered the art of the search algorithm. Librarians do not need to be proficient in the contents of the black boxto provide AI support, as this book will show, they need only the desire to try. If that is not inspiration enough, consider library users struggling to locate a book through signage and maps. Would they be refused help just because a librarian didn’t understand cartography? Librarians need not be computer scientists to partake in the conversation surrounding AI, they only need to be curious.

What follows in this book is a snapshot in time, a look at the academic librarians who have risen to the occasion and have begun to embrace AI in their work. The book is organized in three parts to establish AI initiatives in User Services, Collections and Discovery, as well as exploring the movement in Toward Future Applications. As users confront their own understanding of AI, some librarians have reached out to establish communities of discourse, such as The 99 AI Challenge, Keeping Up with Artificial Intelligence and workshops on machine translation. Others have created incubation spaces such as The Collaboratoryand an AI Lab. Even further, some academic librarians have gone so far as to confront their users with robotics. Although some could argue that public libraries would be better suited to introducing their users to artificial intelligence, academic libraries are in a unique position where they can combine their information literacy initiatives with AI literacy. They can also foster interesting partnerships with different on-campus groups that can directly benefit their communities.

Behind the scenes, academic librarians have been integrating AI technology into their collections and using it to enhance discoverability. The use of AI to refine metadata for images, articles, and theses has played a large role in the improvement of university collections and institutional repositories. Collaborations with third-party groups have also enabled academic librarians to explore the use of AI applications in hand-text recognition through Transkribus and machine learning through IBM’s Watson. While the nature of metadata and cataloging make them natural fits for AI, the importance of training librarians and staff members in this technology is paramount. AI can enhance the discoverability of collections and items, but the implications of its use should be understandable to its users.

Although practical applications of artificial intelligence are growing in academic libraries, much of the possibilities of this technology remain theoretical. The book ends with two chapters that explore the future possibilities of AI for academic libraries. As the discussion surrounding ethics, bias, and privacy in AI continues to grow, libraries will be called to make informed decisions and position themselves as leaders in this discourse. Another important implication for librarians will be how AI will impact information behaviour and how they must be aware of machine information behaviour and its main tenants.

The goal of this book is not prescriptive; it aims to introduce librarians to certain implications and applications of artificial intelligence, to start conversations, and to inspire. As the presence of artificial intelligence continues to grow in society, libraries will have to contend with the place they want to take with regard to this technology. The chapters in this book show the endless possibilities for librarians to engage with AI.