7 Ways Librarians Can Prepare for the Future and Start Using AI at Work

Sarah Lee
August 18, 2023
Library Technology, Library Careers

The tranquil image of a librarian engrossed in books, guiding hushed patrons through rows of dusty shelves, has undergone a remarkable transformation. In an era of lightning-fast technological progress, where Artificial Intelligence (AI) spreads its wings of innovation, even the most established domains will have to adapt or fade into obscurity. 

We asked librarians from around the world about what they think of AI, and how they want to use it. Here’s what they said.

Angella Pollak from Canada- “I don’t use AI a lot (not in the GPT chat sense) but I rely on electronic tools in general a lot and I’m always on the lookout to understand how AI is impacting the work I do and also how it can be harnessed to help people with disabilities. I think it’s a case of ‘ignore at your own peril’.”

Another librarian from Indiana, United States, Ally Muterspaw says - “AI cannot understand the nuances of human interaction. It can't detect when there is miscommunication, confusion, or frustration when helping people with their needs. AI cannot build trusting relationships, and many patrons seek out the library for that personalized connection.”

Even though most librarians aren’t using AI, its advent certainly ushers in an era of unprecedented possibilities, with future librarians poised to capitalise on its potential to create a blend of enhanced experiences for both themselves and their patrons.

In this article we will discuss 4 ways in which librarians can be future ready with AI and elevate the narrative of their profession.

1. Learn from other librarians, but do it your way

AI tools are slowly becoming a big deal in libraries, blending tech with tradition to bring about some major changes. While librarians have historically been slow towards adapting information technologies, some of them are working hard to learn how to use AI technology at the workplace.

Research use cases

Similar to what Aaron Tay shares in his blog, consider navigating the maze of research materials with the help of AI. Aaron is a library analytics manager at Singapore Management University, and former senior librarian, who uses AI-powered research systems like Consensus, for analysing students' preferences, previous searches, and academic pursuits to curate tailored research references. 

This approach can speed up your discovery process. With generative AI, academic librarians can be faster at guiding students, sharing research, and organizing information.

Quick tips to integrate AI at work

Paul Pival, a librarian at the University of Calgary, published his research on how to incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) into your library workflow. In his article, Paul shares some informative pointers on how to start using AI at work. They are as follows:

  • Try using Bing Chat as a “guide on the side” for reference questions during chat referencing or answering questions through email
  • Avoid using the free, 3.5 version of ChatGPT unless you’re coding or working with metadata
  • Try AI tools modified for specific use cases. For example: Paul uses neeva.com as a privacy-focused, AI-powered search tool
  • Instead of using ChatGPT for free, try Bing Chat. It’s free, and has access to the internet for fresh information.

Read Paul Pival’s article here.

2. Continuous learning for a future-ready librarian

The adage "learning never stops" has never been more relevant. Technology is evolving at an unprecedented rate, and as AI permeates every aspect of modern society, librarians will face a dual mandate: to harness its potential while also keeping up with its evolution. 

Therefore, librarians who actively seek knowledge and adapt their skill sets are poised to emerge as future-ready librarians.

In fact, Paul makes a similar observation in his article. He says that librarians need to up skill, and “practice with new tech tools as they exist, and as they evolve”, to ensure that librarians are not caught off guard, or “perceived by the public or funders as Luddites when it comes to the incorporation of AI into our services”.

AI may appear intimidating, but it’s not your foe, for now. Find courses that provide easy educational resources to help you make use of AI. Coursera and LinkedIn Learning offer a variety of courses ranging from fundamental AI concepts to advanced applications in library contexts.

List of free & paid AI courses you can check out

  1. AI for everyone by DeepLearning.AI
  2. Career Essentials in Generative AI by Microsoft
  3. Generative AI courses on Udemy

3. Learn about AI-powered library hardware tech

The modern library, once defined by its shelves of books and the whisper of pages turning, will soon evolve into a nexus of technology and knowledge.

If you can imagine stepping into a modern library, you will likely encounter a range of advanced technology-enabled resources. AI-run book recommendation stations powered by sophisticated algorithms, tapping into individual patron preferences, providing personalized reading recommendations that span genres and many more.

Examples of using hardware and AI in the library

Taylor’s University in Malaysia uses “shelf-help” robots to take stock of library collections and automate routine tasks. Singapore's National Library Board reduces the hours required to maintain shelves by 50% b

NC State University’s libraries have also adopted technology and innovation by utilizing 3D digital displays or holograms to exhibit student and campus community creativity.

Be on the lookout for examples of how libraries are using advanced hardware and software. The next time your funder, or the people ask about how you think technology will change libraries, you’ll be well prepared with enough examples and answers.

4. Automate for efficiency, not for the sake of it

Let’s consider a tool like Cataloging.Ai that does data sourcing, batch image editing, content generation, and translation. Basically, everything you might need while cataloging. If done right, using this one tool can help you save hours each week by automating routine tasks. This kind of library automation not only speeds up a librarian’s work, but also gives them more control over knowledge sharing, and learning experiences.

Victor Santiago, an Academic Reference Librarian at Farmingdale State College, New York for example, uses ChatGPT and AI chatbots to automate routine reference tasks so that he can focus on more complex research queries that require expertise and training.

5. Focus on improving experience delivery

Imagine a children’s librarian who uses Craiyon AI, and creates visual storytelling experiences that captivate young minds and instil a lifelong love for literature.

In this new paradigm, librarians shift from task-doers to orchestrators, using AI as an expert skill instrument to automate routine tasks and focus more on experience delivery.

As AI reduces operational workload, librarians will find themselves at an intersection, where they can choose to increase their impact by fostering connections within the community. This shift is about more than just giving up administrative duties; it is about redefining the very essence of librarianship. The role of the librarian shifts from transactional service provider to transformative catalyst, sparking intellectual exploration and fostering social interaction.

6. Don’t trust AI completely

If you’ve used the free version of ChatGPT, which is powered by their old version 3.5, you must have seen it “hallucinate” answers, citations, and pretty much everything. Even the more advanced GPT 4 ends up making mistakes and imagining information that doesn’t exist.

While tools like Bing Chat serve more accurate information, none of the generative AI tools can be fully relied upon. It’s important for librarians to regulate information that’s coughed up by AI, and verify it’s authenticity in whichever way or context that information is required.

7. Make a list of AI tools for librarians

The internet is flooded with thousands of AI-powered software tools which cater to both general and specific use cases. From academics, and research, to management, and marketing, you'll find at least 10 AI tools for each one of them.

The challenge here is two fold. Keeping up with all the new tools in the market, and learning to evaluate the one that works best for you. We recently made a list of 30 AI tools for librarians that went viral on LinkedIn, and got a ton of positive feedback from librarians on how useful that list was. You can start from this list, or make your own.

Just remember to not spend too much time chasing every other tool, and managing the overwhelm that comes with learning so much at once.

Parting Thoughts

The essence of being a librarian in the age of AI lies not just in adapting to change, but in embracing it as an opportunity to thrive in the future. As AI-enabled technologies continue to transform libraries, librarians act as artists, meticulously crafting an experience that combines the old and the new.

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About the Author

This article is part of a collaborative series between GR Techand industry leaders, aimed at bringing new ideas andinsights to our readers.

Sarah Lee

project manager

I'm a highly skilled project manager with extensive experience in the education technology industry. With a background in computer science and a passion for improving educational outcomes, I have dedicated my career to developing innovative software solutions that make learning more engaging, accessible, and effective.