Fantastic Futures: The 2nd International Conference on AI for Libraries, Archives, and Museums

As trusted partners in the provision and management of information, libraries, archives, and museums are looking for practical and ethical approaches to the suite of technologies known as Artificial Intelligence (AI).  The second Fantastic Futures conference, hosted at Stanford Libraries from December 4th to the 6th2019, brought together more than 250 practitioners from across these fields to build communities of practice around the application of AI, and to examine the ways in which AI has the potential to change libraries, the ways libraries can (or should) change AI, and conversely the ways AI can elevate library services.

The conference opened with a day of presentations and plenary sessions.  In their opening keynotes, Stanford’s University Librarian, Mike Keller, and Aslak Myhre from the National Library of Norway looked at the potential for AI to radically improve the ability of libraries, archives, and museums to unlock the stored value of their collections by making them more findable, and more accessible.  Libraries have strong traditional values, and as AI transforms workflows librarians are questioning the capacity of AI to respect and embrace privacy, openness, equity, and diversity.  Each field can potentially learn from the other.  Additional presentations delved more deeply, looking at AI and its emerging role in cultural heritage, approaches to democratizing AI, and issues of data privacy and ethics.

The second day brought a series of hands-on workshops providing practical instruction for staff across library, museum, and archive organizations, including administrators, content experts, catalogers, designers, and engineers.  Workshops included an introduction to computational text analysis, a focused look at Tensorflow 2.0 + Keras for model prototyping, a walkthrough of work on algorithmic object and feature extraction from historical maps, and a session directed at project managers examining the implications of programmatic applications of AI.  To extend those workshop discussions and further foster interaction, the third, and closing, day of the conference was an Unconference-style event, with attendees self-organizing around interest groups.

As an organizer, I’m very pleased with the extensive engagement and practical discussions that I saw happening at the Fantastic Futures conference.  The program went beyond demonstrations of current practice, though it did that, and demonstrated both the significant opportunity that AI presents to transform librarianship, as well as the need for incorporating ethics and traditional library values in the field of AI  A third annual conference is already being planned for 2020, and look forward to even greater global engagement there.

Mimi Calter
Deputy University Librarian
Stanford Libraries, USA
mcalter@stanford.edu

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