ARL’s Hot Topics session to discuss the potential of AI to change the mission of academic and research libraries

Author: Siviwe Bangani, Director, Research Services, Stellenbosch University Library, South Africa

Artificial Intelligence (AI), especially the latest tool, ChatGPT, is the hottest topic in academic and research libraries (ARLs) at the moment. Many ARLs around the world have started to think about ways to adopt and adapt AI tools to improve their services and workflows.  However, the pace with which these libraries adapt and adopt AI technologies seem to differ by continent and country and even among libraries within the same country. There is much to learn from the early adopters of these technologies that can be shared with other ARLs around the world. In addition, it is important to learn about the immediate challenges that the adoption of these technologies poses and what the long-term opportunities are and whether these pose an existential threat to ARLs in general. There are growing concerns about the potential risks and ethical implications of these technologies.

Naturally, IFLA’s ARL chose the fascinating theme of AI as a hot topic for its session that will be held on 22 August 2023 at 10:15 am during the IFLA Congress in Rotterdam. The title of the session is: “From Gutenberg to ChatGPT: Will AI change the mission of academic and research libraries”?  As expected, this Hot Topic theme generated a lot of interest from all regions of the continent. It is scheduled for 60 minutes and will have two parts:  three ignite talks (8 minutes each) and round table discussions where the audience can learn and share more about their experiences with AI in their own libraries, campuses or countries. The ignite talks session will have a diversified mix of speakers from Africa, Asia and United States of America.

African representatives from Nigeria, Cecilia Adewumi and Adetoun Oyelude, will speak to “Anfang – Bot – Schluß” : Visualizing Future Academic and Research Libraries”. The speakers will take us through the future of academic and research libraries, presenting ideas of future ARLs as seen through the lens of library and information professionals working in those libraries and projecting the future. The questions raised in the study will be directed to participants of the Hot Topic session and conclusions and recommendations will be made based on the results obtained.

Asian representatives from India, Satveer Nehra and Sadanand Bansode, will bring an Asian perspective to the debate. Their topic will cover “Artificial Intelligence and ChatGPT in academic and research libraries: challenges and opportunity”. In their proposal, Nehra and Bansode noted that AI can help reshape librarianship by thinking outside the box, enabling better search and retrieval of information, personalised recommendations, and efficient customer service. In their presentation, the authors will touch on the challenges and limitations of using AI and ChatGPT, such as the potential for more dependability of users on AI instead of Library resources which may affect their reading habits. The authors will also raise the issue of how the non-availability of skilled staff in underdeveloped nations, among others, is a potential hindrance to the implementation and maintenance of AI systems as well as the risk of job losses in an AI-intensive environment.

Mimi Calter from the United States of America will bring the North American perspective to the discussion focussing on “Large language models: immediate challenges, long-term opportunities”. This ignite talk will summarise recent developments in the technology and highlight the challenges and opportunities libraries face in embracing and incorporating those technologies into their future operations. Calter notes that AI tools are bringing changes to many aspects of academic life such as copyright law, journal submission policies, grading and assessment processes. Regarding libraries, AI has the potential to streamline collection description and processing, and add new approaches to discovery. However, the potential to leverage AI technologies would depend on the extent to which ARL libraries build new skills in ways that will enhance their mission.

All members of academic and research libraries and other interested parties are invited to attend what promises to be a truly Hot Topics session. ARLs Hot Topic sessions are always among the highlights at IFLA Congresses.

Siviwe Bangani, Director, Research Services, Stellenbosch University Library, South Africa