5 Ways Artificial Intelligence Impacts Libraries

This article explores the impact of AI on libraries and professionals, highlighting how AI can improve information organization, accessibility, user services, and library analytics. It also emphasizes the importance of AI literacy for both librarians and patrons in today's society.

Updated on April 5, 2023

5 Ways Artificial Intelligence Impacts Libraries

Libraries and library professionals have long been conscientious stewards of information, safeguarding its organization, access, collection, and protection. As such, they are necessarily at the forefront of all new information developments from card catalogs and microfilm to personal computers and e-books. 

It is little known, however, that libraries are notoriously slow in adopting these new technologies. They often wait until the market is saturated and the public is demanding access and education before implementation.

The flaws in this practice create unique challenges for library professionals tasked with meeting the needs of their communities. Slow adoption not only causes a lag in service but also leads to gaps in training and other core competencies

While library organizations and leaders recognize this and try to stay ahead of the curve, the rate of output for new technologies makes keeping pace almost impossible. The current onslaught of artificial intelligence (AI) software and tools accurately illustrates this dilemma. 

Over the years, libraries responded to the ebbs and flows of artificial intelligence by implementing tools and processes as they became widely available. This present wave of new AI tools, though, is leaving libraries and library professionals scrambling to incorporate changes across the institution.

By presenting five fundamental ways that artificial intelligence impacts libraries, this article explores the potential intersections between its existing uses and the possibilities of additional applications.

1. Information professionals

The organization and accessibility of information is a key focus of library professionals. They are constantly looking for innovative ways to make improvements. 

By using artificial intelligence to advance classification systems, librarians are improving the precision of search and recall efforts. They are also analyzing digital collections, identifying subjects, and adding metadata with these technologies.

As more AI-based tools and software become readily available, library professionals will continue to adapt. Their roles as guardians of information and partners to the community will intensify and expand.

Just as library professionals took the reins in developing the search engines and strategies necessary to maneuver through intricate cataloging systems, they will also participate in the design of artificial intelligence-powered knowledge discovery tools. They will then take the initiative to educate the public on how to locate and interact with these AI tools. 

2. Library operations

Throughout the institution’s long and complex history, library management systems have evolved in sync with related technologies. The initial efforts concentrated on simply integrating tasks like tracking book loans and assigning late fees.

With the advent of computer technologies came the ability to convert these manual systems into computerized ones, giving rise to library automation. Now, once again, library management systems are progressing with the support of advancements in rule-based software and artificial intelligence.

Robotic process automation

Some libraries, for example, are already employing robotic process automation (RPA) to perform routine administrative tasks like data migration,shelf management, forms processing, and email marketing. While a few others are experimenting with automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) that use robotics to retrieve books on demand from mass storage facilities.

Smart Libraries

The future of artificial intelligence in library operations lies in the idea of a ‘Smart Library’ that is available to patrons without being directly staffed. Everything from doors to lighting, self-service kiosks, and personal computers will be controlled remotely. Patrons will engage with personal digital assistants (PDA) to search for and retrieve materials.

5 ways AI affects libraries

3. User services

Providing reliable and valuable services tailored to unique user groups has long been a key objective of libraries and library professionals. Because these services include fundamental components of every library like Collection Development, Circulation, Reference, Interlibrary Loans, and Programming, they may seem static. In reality, though, they are remarkably fluid, ever-adapting to dynamic forces like user demands and emergent technologies.

Libraries around the world are implementing artificial intelligence to address both of these factors. AI-driven chatbots are proving effective in connecting users, who may be accustomed to 24-hour service and text message interactions, with highly-personalized and efficient information requests. They are also creating programming that introduces patrons to new AI tools and teaches them how to use the technology appropriately and safely. 

As artificial intelligence will undoubtedly continue to expand and impact user communities, libraries are busy laying out plans to meet those needs. Using AI tools within their circulation services, for example, to make recommendations based on users’ previous searches and borrowing patterns, will ensure more personalized and intuitive services. It may also offer increased accessibility to born-digital materials by identifying sensitive information, thus allowing libraries to democratize the non-sensitive elements.

4. Data and AI Literacy 

Since the 1970s, libraries and academic institutions have focused on the importance of information literacy, generally defined as a set of skills needed to locate and use information for problem solving and decision making. In 1989, the American Library Association made a formal proposal to ensure that information literacy be included in research, curriculums, and public policies across the nation.

As the formats and delivery methods of information have transformed, more dimensions have been added to the original information literacy concept. The additions include:

  • Resource literacy
  • Research literacy
  • Computer literacy and more

Today, the literacy objective of libraries and library professionals takes aim at data literacy and AI literacy.

Whereas data literacy deals with learning how to locate, understand, and think critically about data, AI literacy entails an understanding of its function, logic and limitations, and potential impacts. When libraries help patrons gain AI literacy, they provide the skills needed for people to confidently participate in and engage with a society that is employing more artificial intelligence tools and processes each day.

5. Library analytics

Data analysis in libraries generally relies on static data that is gathered through circulation and usage records, stored for later analysis, and eventually manipulated to answer specific questions like: 

  • “Which book is missing from this collection?”
  • “When do most people visit the library?”

Not only is this method labor intensive and ineffective, but it also guarantees that the available data is outdated and irrelevant.

The inclusion of artificial intelligence into library analytics is a logical choice. Its purpose lies in using data to identify patterns in near real time scenarios. Library professionals can convert this information into management and planning strategies for designing better services.

Final thoughts

Though libraries have been historically slow in adopting emerging technologies, their current approach to the rise of artificial intelligence is assertive and purposeful. Library associations, Boards of Trustees, professionals, and patrons are all involved in making sure AI is incorporated into the library’s processes and services in a complementary and ethical manner .

By exploring these five ways artificial intelligence impacts libraries, this article has revealed some of the potential intersections between its existing uses and additional applications.

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