Tag Archives: employment

Brazil G20 – Looking ahead to opportunities for library engagement

What opportunities does Brazil’s G20 Presidency offer for libraries and the issues that matter to us? We’re happy to share an overview of the priorities already set out, and what they mean for our institutions.

G20 Brazil logo - text: G20 Brazil 2024, Building a just world and a sustainable planet. design with wavy lines in green, yellow, red and blue, hinting at the shape of Brazil as a countryAlready on 1 December 2023, Brazil took over the presidency of the G20, the group of 20 of the largest economies in the world, providing a space for discussing, coordinating and launching joint initiatives.

G20 members are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the UK, the US and the European Union, plus others invited on an ad hoc basis.

The G20 works though two high-level tracks. One brings together the ‘sherpas’ or representatives of heads of state and government, ahead of a summit in November, and oversees a group of 15 working groups, two task forces and an Initiative. The other is the finance track, with Finance Ministers and central bank governors, who discuss key economic issues.

In his speech at the G20 Summit in India, President Lula underlined a strong focus on equality, and in particular combatting hunger worldwide, as well as accelerating sustainable development in general. He was also strong in calling for reform of international financial institutions.

But what can libraries expect in different areas of activity over the course of 2024, and how could we get involved as part of wider efforts to secure recognition, and so support? This article looks at some key areas.

Digital Economy: the Digital Economy Working Group is in its fourth year, and focuses on how to harness the potential of digital to deliver wider policy goals. The Brazilian Presidency has set out four themes – connectivity (in particular in rural and remote areas), digital government (including through high-equality eGovernment services and Digital Public Infrastructure), information integrity (focused on the action of platforms), and artificial intelligence (looking at how to take a truly global approach to AI, not just one based on the situation of a limited number of countries and actors).

There is lots for libraries in here, in particular around the role of public access in libraries as part of the wider inclusive connectivity infrastructure, and how libraries can support information integrity by building both skills to navigate the information environment, and appreciation of quality information. Libraries also have much to contribute to making eGovernment work, and to the Digital Public Infrastructure debate (see our briefing). The Ministerial meeting will be on 14 September.

Culture: this is also the fourth year of operation of the Culture Working Group, which brings together culture ministers and equivalents. The existence of the working group in itself is helpful, showing that culture has its place as an area of action in the context of efforts to deliver on a wider policy agenda. Work under the Indian Presidency led to a powerful endorsement of culture as a development goal.

Broad themes for work this year, building on the work of the Indian Presidency, include cultural diversity and inclusion; culture, digital environment and copyright; culture and sustainable economic development; and preservation, safeguarding and promotion of cultural heritage.

For libraries, it will be valuable to push for further affirmation of the role of culture in development, as well as cultural rights (including rights of access to culture), in line with the overall emphasis on inclusion in President Lula’s speech. A particular goal will be to see a broader definition of culture, including of course libraries, and not just the narrow museum and heritage sector. The Ministerial meeting will be on 18 October.

Education: work here overall is strongly focused on education professionals and how to help students realise their potential. Priorities here seem to focus on addressing the shortage of personnel, as well as their training, diversity and representation in the sector, and opportunities for cross-border exchange and learning. The Presidency also notes questions around connectivity, digital tools in the classroom and school management, online training, and adapting curricula to technology are on the agenda.

For libraries, a key priority will be to underline the fact that librarians should be considered as education professionals, with a key role in supporting literacy (and literacies), and more broadly helping students to succeed. Our field would also, doubtless, benefit from inclusion in wider discussions about ongoing learning, and can offer much on making digital education work effectively, while respecting privacy. The Ministerial meeting will be on 30-31 October.

Research and innovation: this is a new working group, set up by the Brazilian Presidency, with ‘Innovation Open to Fair and Sustainable Development’ as the key theme. This is admittedly more about technology access and transfer to developing countries, based on concerns that technology is too often linked to competition between countries, rather than collaboration to find solutions. In addition, the working group is also looking to support student and researcher mobility, and enable inter-institutional collaboration.

For libraries, it will be helpful not only to ensure understanding of the place of libraries at the heart of universities and research institutions, but also to underline that key to promoting the exchange of ideas, collaboration and capacity is the spread of open science. The lessons of the Japanese G7 work on the topic in 2023 could be a good basis. The Ministerial meeting will be on 17-18 September.

An interesting element of this work is the Bioeconomy Initiative, with a strong focus on how to bring together and disseminate relevant knowledge in order to allow for more sustainable use of biodiversity and to understand and maximise its role in promoting sustainable development.

Development: issues on the agenda for the Development Working Group are social inclusion and reduction of inequalities, and in particular ensuring that everyone has access to basic sanitation. There is also a call for cooperation between groups focused on development and finance in order to boost spending on sustainable development.

The G20 agenda on development is likely to be very broad, but there is potential, in underlining the importance of information equity, and how action on this can help to combat wider inequalities. There are also possibilities, in demonstrating how libraries can help spread knowledge and change behaviours around sanitation, to make a case for including us in any plans and programming. There should, in the context of the Global Alliance against Hunger and Poverty, be scope to underline the need to build community institutions with the connections and understanding to help communities in the most effective way possible. The Ministerial meeting will be on 23 August.


There are potential openings in other areas. The Employment Working Group’s focus on keeping skills updated (especially for women and others at risk of marginalisation) at a time of technological change relates well to much library work in communities to build digital skills and inclusion.  While the new Task Force for the Global Mobilisation against Climate Change is more focused on economics and wider action, it will be valuable to highlight libraires’ support for climate empowerment in communities.

Similarly, the Task Force for a Global Alliance Against Hunger and Poverty is extensively about improving financial support and incentives, but the role of libraries in sharing innovation in rural communities is relevant. Meanwhile, initial proposals on health, focused on unified and resilient systems, currently focus on coordination and collaboration, but realistically could and should include a universal right of access to health information.

Furthermore, there are other areas – tourism, women’s empowerment and disaster risk where little information on plans is available, but where there is scope for libraries to engage.


Finally, we will be following work as it emerges around the different engagement groups focusing on specific topics of communities, and which for the first time will come together in a ‘Social Summit’ just before the Leaders’ Summit in November. The list of such groups includes areas relevant to libraries, not least the Urban20 meeting of mayors, and the Civil20 (for civil society) and P20 (for parliaments).


Library Stat of the Week #35: Where there are more libraries offering internet access, being out of work is less likely to mean that people are also offline

Over the past weeks, we have looked at data around digital divides, and to what extent these cross over with other potential divides in society – rich and poor, women and men, old and young, and those with higher or lower formal qualifications.

It is valuable to look at this because the results help understand to what extent the internet can act as a bridge across divides, or rather deepen them further.

Ideally, access to the web should help those who are disadvantaged find new opportunities and information in order to improve their own lives, as well as those of the people around them.

However, where access is lacking, the fortunate – those who can use the internet – can get ahead, while those without drop further and further behind. This has been abundantly clear during the COVID-19 pandemic, with children lacking internet access unable to take part in education in the same way as their better connected peers.

It is also the case for those facing unemployment. People seeking work can do so much more easily with access to the internet, both to find openings, and to develop skills or access support.

People who are retired can also risk being cut off without internet access, for example limiting contact with friends and family, governments services, and eHealth possibilities. Older people may also feel less confident online, and feel the need for additional support.

In both cases, libraries can provide a great way to ensure that everyone can get online and make the most of the internet.

This blog therefore looks at digital divides between those in work on the one hand, and those who are unemployed or retired on the other. Once again, data on internet use comes from the OECD’s database on ICT Access and Usage by Households and Individuals, while data on libraries offering internet access comes from IFLA’s Library Map of the World.

Graph 1: Employment-Related Digital Divides

Graph 1 looks at the state of the employment-related digital divide, for countries for which data is available. In almost all countries, a greater share of people in employment have used the internet in the last three months than those who are unemployed.

Only Denmark, Luxembourg and Switzerland buck the trend. In the Czech Republic, Hungary, Korea, Slovenia and Slovakia, the gap is over 20 percentage points.

Meanwhile, in no country are retired people more likely to use the internet than people in work, with the gap reaching over 40 points in Chile, Lithuania, Portugal and the Slovak Republic.

Graph 2a: Employment-Related Digital Divides and Internet Access in Public Libraries (All Countries)

Graph 2a crosses these figures with those for the number of public or community libraries offering internet access. Each dot represents a country, with the number of public or community libraries offering internet access on the horizontal (X) axis, and the gap in shares of the population using the internet (employed minus unemployed (blue dots) or retired (red dots)) on the vertical (Y) axis.

As with previous weeks, putting together the figures for all countries suggests that there is a positive correlation between the number of libraries offering internet access per 100 000 people, and the size of the digital divide – clearly not an encouraging result!

However, as we have seen in previous weeks, it is worth breaking out the results for Central and Eastern Europe, given the particular history of these countries

Graph 2b: Employment-Related Digital Divides and Internet Access in Public Libraries (without Central and Eastern Europe)

Graph 2b – using data from countries outside of Central and Eastern Europe – therefore shows a very different picture, in line with what we have seen in previous weeks. Where there are more libraries offering internet access, the digital divide faced by people who are out of work or retired, compared to their in-work peers, tends to be smaller.

Indeed, it appears that for every additional public library per 100 000 people offering access, the digital divide for the retired falls by 1 percentage point, and that for the unemployed falls by 0.55 percentage points.

Graph 2c: Employment-Related Digital Divides and Internet Access in Public Libraries (Central and Eastern Europe)

Graph 2c repeats the analysis for countries in Central and Eastern Europe for which we have data, again indicating that where there are more libraries offering internet access, divides are smaller.


As always, the analysis carried out here cannot show causality – only correlation. However, it supports the argument that it is in societies with more libraries offering internet access that people who most need to access the internet face smaller barriers to doing so.

With COVID-19 risking exacerbating divides in societies, this is a powerful point to make in underlining why maintaining and broadening internet access through libraries matters more than ever.


Find out more on the Library Map of the World, where you can download key library data in order to carry out your own analysis! See our other Library Stats of the Week! We are happy to share the data that supported this analysis on request.

Five Things that Individuals and Societies Need (and Libraries Provide) in the Wake of COVID-19

COVID-19 has placed significant strain on individuals and societies.

The economic damage has been clear, with businesses forced to close, and increased unemployment. While the most immediate impacts have been felt in the private sector, the public sector too is likely to see cuts as governments deal with lower revenues and debts to pay back.

This has inevitable social consequences, coming on top of the trauma of the loss of life, and the regret that many will feel at not being able to socialise and interact with others as they did before the pandemic.

These impacts are not felt equally of course. While many have been lucky to be able to move much of their lives online, this has not been the case for all by a long way.

At the level of individuals, there is often uncertainty about the future, as well as a serious risk of falling behind those who have been more fortunate.

Connected to this, societies as a whole are weakened when inequalities grow, both in terms of social cohesion amongst their members, and their overall potential to produce and innovate.

The job of government is to prevent this from happening, providing the context and support that individuals and societies need in order to recover. They need to act to minimise or avoid long-term scarring from the pandemic, while creating the opportunities for renewal and positive change.

Libraries can be at the heart of this response. This blog sets out five key challenges individuals and societies will face – or are already facing – as a result of COVID-19, and what our institutions can do to help.


Catching up with School: schools and teachers around the world have made a huge effort, in a very short period of time, to redesign teaching for an online environment. This is likely to have made a real difference for many learners.

Nonetheless, those who do not have access to the internet, or who do not have the hardware or space at home to learn effectively, have been at risk of falling behind their luckier peers, as the United Nations itself has underlined. For them, the period of the pandemic risks becoming a lost term – or even year – dragging them further behind.

Public and school libraries have long had a role in supporting teachers by encouraging and supporting reading and research outside of the classroom, for example in the United States. This role is more central than ever now, with libraries stepping up to deliver online after-school programming, designing activities and challenges, and providing tailored materials and support to help learners most in need!


Help to Access Employment Support: with unemployment already rising, millions of people are going to be looking for work in the coming months. The support that governments and other agencies can provide – benefits and job-search support – will be essential for many, especially those who start with fewer skills or resources to start with.

Yet again, too many people do not have the possibility to get online, or the devices necessary to prepare a CV, prepare a business plan, or apply for benefits or other forms of support. Furthermore, for many, pride or other factors may keep them away from job centres.

Libraries are already helping here, from printing out and delivering applications for government benefits, to providing access to resources for prospective entrepreneurs, or training to help jobseekers gain the skills they need, such as in Livadia, Greece.


Smarter and Fairer Innovation and Decision-Making: the COVID-19 pandemic has proved a major test of the ability of governments to take decisions, and of scientists and researchers to respond to an urgent priority.

In a few months, we have learnt a lot, leaving societies better prepared to respond to new clusters of cases. At the same time, we have also become aware of the many questions that remain open. To respond, there have been rapid advances in ensuring open access to relevant materials, as well as developing platforms for sharing information and carrying out collaborative research.

One key conclusion from this is the need for ready access to information – the speciality of libraries. From evidence reviews in support of government decision-making – as highlighted in the webinar organised by IFLA’s Special Interest Group on Evidence for Global and Disaster Health – to infrastructures for data on COVID-19, libraries have been essential to providing the best possible chances of finding a way out of the crisis.


Rediscovering a Sense of Community: less tangible, but no less important for wellbeing and social cohesion is the possibility for people to feel connected to each other. In societies where living alone is more and more common, especially among older people, loneliness and isolation have risked growing significantly.

While people have shown real resilience in the face of difficulty, it is clear that many miss opportunities to enjoy common experiences.

Again, libraries provide a solution. At an individual level, there are great examples of librarians making sure to schedule calls with regular users, especially those most at risk of finding themselves alone, such as Auckland, New Zealand. The re-opening of buildings should help to provide additional support.

Meanwhile, local libraries are organising activities online – and increasingly in person, where this is safe – realising their potential as often the most accessible cultural infrastructure for their communities. This work is complemented by the efforts of national and major research libraries to provide access to their collections and organising engaging exhibitions.


A Chance to Take a Break: linked to the above, the fact of being obliged to stay at home has not meant that people have had any less need to step back and take time for themselves. Especially with travel impossible or limited, people need a means to escape from the uncertainty and worry that the pandemic has brought.

While of course the key priority has been to ensure that people receive healthcare when they are ill, as well as the food and money needed to survive physically, we cannot underestimate the importance of culture as a source of wellbeing and respite, as the World Health Organisation has noted.

Once again, libraries provide an accessible and equitable means of doing this. There have been major increases in people signing up for, and using, library digital offerings, both from national and public libraries.

While copyright and the licencing terms offered by rightholders have sometimes limited scope for action, libraries globally have innovated and found ways to provide their communities with cultural experiences, in ways that work for them.


There are of course many other ways in which libraries support communities. IFLA’s work around the Sustainable Development Goals, for example, underlines the variety of ways in which our institutions can make a difference.

Nonetheless, in advocating for libraries now – at a time when many will face challenges to their funding – it is valuable to focus on the most pressing issues that governments themselves need to resolve.

By applying examples and lessons from your own context to show how libraries can provide solutions, you can strengthen the case you make for ongoing investment in library and information services. For example, Libraries Connected in England provides a great example of structuring advocacy around these sorts of challenges.

Good luck!

What Makes Libraries Unique in Achieving… SDG 8

DA2I means being able to find – and seize – new opportunities for work and entrepreneurshipSustainable Development Goal 8 is the second of the SDGs to be explored this year. It focuses on promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

Through their work to provide access to information in communities, including to some of their most vulnerable members, libraries can be a gateway to opportunity. Both indirectly – through promoting inclusion and wellbeing – and directly through training and job-search support – our institutions can make a real contribution to delivering on SDG 8.

Labour and employment ministries therefore have an interest in effective libraries.

But what arguments can you use to convince them?

Here are three ideas showing why libraries have a unique role in achieving SDG 8:

  • Because employment schemes only work if people know about them: like any market, the job market only works when people know about the opportunities out there. Yet half the world’s population does not have internet access or aren’t confident online. Libraries are not only places where people can connect, but also can receive support and guidance on where to find possibilities to help them find jobs.
  • Because those who need support most can be the hardest to reach: for many, going to a job centre is associated with stigma. Others, especially those from marginalised groups, feel uneasy going into official buildings, or even are not entitled to formal support. Libraries are often seen differently, with people readier to use them. As such, they can provide an excellent place to provide services to many of the most vulnerable in society.
  • Because skills matter: developing new and more advanced skills is a necessity for everyone, not only in order to respond to technological and economic change, but also to find better quality, more fulfilling work. Yet those who have left school risk can risk struggling to reconnect to education. Libraries not only offer training themselves, but can be a gateway to other forms of adult and non-formal education.

For more see the chapter on SDG 8 in the 2019 Development and Access to Information (DA2I) Report by Stefania Lapolla Cantoni, Researcher at cetic.br.

The Robots are Here: AI, Libraries and the Internet

Artificial Intelligence (AI) – systems able to collect and analyze structured or unstructured data and make decisions based on that information to achieve a defined goal[1] – were a widely discussed subject at the 2019 edition of the European Dialogue on Internet Governance (EuroDIG).

Today, AI continues to fundamentally change the way people use and interact with the internet[2]. Given that the internet deeply affects the library and information service fields, it is important for libraries to “stay ahead of the digital curve”, in order to be able to continue to uphold their values and offer services which meet society’s needs.

AI isn’t just something for the private sector. Several countries are looking for ways to integrate AI technology into their public services (for example, see the Agency for Digital Italy). There are many possible uses: optimising street traffic, helping public employment agencies, determining eligibility for welfare programmes, visa and immigration applications and more[3].

Naturally, more reliance on AI for public service delivery requires internet access and basic digital literacy for the population to use e-services (as reflected in the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation report recommendation that by 2030 every adult should have access to digital financial and health services, and the broad theme of the report, “Leaving No One Behind”).

Internet access and digital literacy courses are services that many (in some countries, almost 90%)[4] libraries are already offering. The growing necessity of giving people access to connections will only make them more important. Crucially, they can help marginalised populations who cannot afford a broadband subscription adapt to the digitalisation of public services.

Even if every citizen has access to the internet and basic digital literacy skills, the internet they interact with will also be increasingly shaped by AI.

On the user and content levels, AI is often used for moderation. However, the effectiveness of AI in moderating supposedly harmful content is often questioned, and many agree that right now this task cannot be carried out by AI alone, and human moderators are still needed.

However, some EuroDIG 2019 participants argued that the sheer amount of online content generated every day, as well as the growing pressure on popular platforms to control harmful content, could make more AI moderation seem like an attractive solution.

More broadly, AI could impact physical internet access by moderating, predicting and regulating internet traffic for improved efficiency. Both uses could have implications for freedom of access to information and freedom of expression, since the bias in AI can reinforce existing inequalities.

Libraries around the world stand for the principles of access to information and freedom of expression, and these principles should be at the heart of the debate on AI internet governance.

What Libraries Can Do for a Society Living with AI

  • Use AI responsibly. Today, libraries are under pressure to deliver maximum value and justify their public funding. That is why it can be tempting to turn to AI, hoping to maximize efficiency. However, it is important for libraries to be informed about potential ethical issues of some AI use cases, and make ethical choices to safeguard public trust. For example, the 2019 Mozilla Internet Health Report suggests thermal sensors as an alternative to cameras for collecting crowd and visitor data[5]. This solution achieves the same goal without compromising privacy concerns, and shows a commitment to ethical standards.
  • Support ethical AI research. As the use of AI grows, many governments and NGOs are looking for better data for AI training models and improved data collection practices. As discussed earlier, libraries can supply a wealth of high-quality datasets for machine learning[6]. Academic libraries in particular have large repositories of data from quantitative studies, coded and labelled according to high scientific standards. Trained specialised librarians can also actively assist in ethical AI research, offer their data literacy expertise and promote ethical data handling and collection methods, especially in local contexts.
  • Expand their efforts to support literacy. In the last few decades, many libraries have started providing digital literacy training; today, algorithmic literacy is becoming particularly important. This form of literacy includes recognizing when you interact with AI, understanding how it determines which information you find online, and knowing how your private data is collected by AI algorithms. Libraries can include these skills in their digital literacy programmes. Several ongoing research projects, such as “RE:search” and “UnBias”, outline the best ways to develop algorithmic literacy skills among lay users. Librarians can use the insights provided by state-of-the-art research, and organize classes to help their patrons develop these skills.
  • Encourage public debate around AI. In addition, libraries can use their role as community hubs to encourage debate and citizen participation to discuss the functions of AI in society. Because of the many ways AI can change society, some stakeholders at EuroDIG 2019 advocated broad public consultation on the uses of AI by the government. This requires the public to be informed and proactive; and libraries can provide both a physical forum and the unbiased information to initiate such a debate. For example, they can enable local residents to communicate their problems to the AI Commons initiative, which brings together AI developers and problem owners.
  • Education to live with AI, education with the help of AI. Society is facing an enormous task of transforming education systems to cope with the changes in labour markets caused by AI and automation. One of the biggest priorities is encouraging lifelong learning and improving social inclusion in educational settings[7]. Libraries can play a big role in achieving these goals – they provide access to knowledge and information with no entry barriers, and they can be particularly suitable for helping older learners and non-digital natives[8]. On the supply side, AI can also help libraries create reproducible and customisable learning tools, which would work well together with a librarian’s personal guidance for a non-digital native user.


In its best use-cases, AI can bring many advantages and societal benefits. Libraries can help to make sure that, truly, no one is left behind in this progress. Public internet access and digital literacy programmes can help more people enjoy the benefits of AI – from healthcare bots to easier travel.

But more importantly, libraries can help the people who are most at risk of falling behind if AI and automation increase existing inequalities. The knowledge and information that libraries offer can help people learn new skills to navigate the changing labour market, improve their livelihoods, and help make their voices heard in political discussions.




[1] European Commission High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence (2019), A definition of Artificial Intelligence: main capabilities and scientific disciplines, 8 April 2019

[2] Internet Society (2017), Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, policy paper

[3] Carrasco, Miguel, Mills, Steven, Whybrew, Adam, and Jura, Adam (2019), The Citizen’s Perspective on the Use of AI in Government, 1 March 2018

[4] Alleman, Kate (2018), Digital Literacy Support in Libraries: More than Just Your Computer Classes, 1 May 2018

[5] Mozilla (2019), 2019 Internet Health Report

[6] IFLA (2018), The Robots are Coming? Libraries and Artificial Intelligence, blog, 24 July 2018

[7] Michel Servoz (2019), “The Future of Work? Work of The Future! On how artificial intelligence, robotics and automation are transforming jobs and the economy in Europe”, report to the European Commission, 3 May 2019

[8] IFLA and TASHA (2019), Development and Access to Information 2019, report

The Robots are Coming? Libraries and Artificial Intelligence

RobotArtificial intelligence (AI) systematically tops popular lists of the most important emerging technologies. With a mix of fear and excitement, commentators seem to agree that it will shape the future, although not always on how.

To borrow a definition, AI is ‘programming computers to do things, which, if done by humans, would be said to require “intelligence’ (MIT Press Essential Knowledge Book on Machine Learning, cited by Chris Bourg).

To do this, it draws on analysis of (often large amounts of) data in order to find connections and draw conclusions. In this way , it can search for information, detect medical conditions, interpret from one language to another, or write books, for example.

Just as previous information-related technological revolutions have marked libraries – printing, electricity, the Internet – it’s worth asking how AI might do so. This blog runs through a number of the dimensions already highlighted by others.

It covers both those that directly impact libraries, and those affecting the broader information – and social – environment in which libraries work. Finally, it asks what scope there is for libraries to bring their resources – and values – to bear to shape this new world.


Robot Librarians, Robot Books?

Perhaps the most regularly voiced concern is that AI will accelerate the evolution in the way people look for information, at the expense of librarians.

Search engines have already gone a long way to replicating the traditional role of libraries in helping find basic information – capitals, dates etc. As AI becomes smarter, the argument goes, it becomes better at some of the more nuanced, smarter searching that librarians have long performed for users.

It is true that computers can ‘read’ literature far faster and more comprehensively than any individual can. Nonetheless, it remains the case that a search is only as good as the search terms put in. A good librarian, through working with a user, can provide a much better tailored service, potentially using up time freed up by using AI.

Moreover, of course, it opens up some truly exciting possibilities to do more with works already in collections (as long as they are digitised, open access, and ideally have the right metadata to be used across institutions). In effect, it can make libraries, and librarians, more valuable, rather than less, as Catherine Nicole Coleman underlines.

A second, and quite different issue, relates to the materials libraries stock. With AI already capable of writing novels, newspaper articles and research papers, there is a question as to the copyright status of these works.

As the monkey selfie case has underlined (more or less, and at least in the case of US law), it appears for now that only human beings can claim copyright. Potentially, the programmer behind the AI could claim an interest, but as highlighted above, may not be able to explain the process that led to the work in question.

Legal clarity on this point will become more and more pressing as time goes on, and AI-generated works take a larger and larger part in the record of works produced.


AI and the Library Environment

Clearly most discussion of AI doesn’t look at libraries, but on the impact on society as a whole. However, as institutions implanted within societies – and with a mission to serve them – libraries will need to take account of, and even deal with, the consequences.

A first issue is what AI will do to our lives and jobs. On the positive side, it does seem likely to free up time and effort for other activities. Given the impact of ‘attention scarcity’ on reading habits, this may be a positive.

Nonetheless, it also seems set to destroy many jobs, and create further divides in the labour market between high- and low-skilled jobs, a point highlighted by Ben Johnson. While it is comforting to think that things like creativity or entrepreneurship are still only possible for humans, there will still need to be support for individuals in realising this.

A second question concerns information itself. As highlighted in the IFLA FAIFE blog on data ethics, there is uncertainty as to how algorithms and artificial intelligence comes up with its answers. When searching for, or making use of, information, it may not be possible to explain how this happens.

While there never was a perfect search, it was at least possible to analyse the process followed. The risk now is that there is a black box, with little possibility to explain the results.

The one thing we do know is that there is a risk of bias and discrimination. Given that AI feeds on data about the present, it is liable simply to repeat this present into the future. Moreover, commercially-run AI brings with it risks of prioritisation (in the case of search in particular), or of course use of personal data (in general), with all the implications this brings for privacy and Intellectual Freedom.

In short, AI seems to be making two key functions of libraries in their work with communities – support for personal development, and information literacy – as important as ever, if not necessarily easier.


Library-Shaped AI?

Yet libraries are not powerless. Our community’s skills and values, as well as our institutions’ collections, have the potential to impact the development of AI. And by getting involved, we also have a chance to underline the importance of libraries to one of the most significant technological developments of today.

The most immediate contribution comes through library collections. Artificial intelligence works by looking at existing materials and drawing new connections and conclusions. Libraries, collectively, contain the richest imaginable resource for the development of AI. Indeed, the GoogleBooks project, for all its critics, made a major contribution to getting AI to where it is today.

The implication of this is, of course, that digitisation projects (at a quality that allows for machine reading), open access, and linked data are more important than ever. So too are efforts to ensure that copyright law does not drag down efforts to advance AI.

Linked to the use of library collections should be the application of library values. As highlighted above, AI (and big data in general) comes with risks of bias and discrimination.

By opening up whole library collections (in particular from a wider variety of sources), libraries can help provide greater balance in the material with which AI works. Moreover, by cooperating with programmers, there is an opportunity also to identify and combat biases that could lead to unbalanced results. Chris Bourg underlines this opportunity – and the challenges it implies, in her blog.


It remains relatively early days for artificial intelligence. But there are already a number of areas where libraries will need to be active. It is worth exploring further the library angle on these, in order not just to be ready for, but to shape the changes AI will bring.


Further reading

Bourg, Chris (2017), What happens to libraries and librarians when machines can read all the books, blog, 16 March 2017

Coleman, Catherine Nicole (2017), Artificial intelligence and the library of the future, revisited, blog, 3 November 2017

International Telecommunications Union, AI for Good

Jacknis, Norman (2017), The AI-Enhanced Library, blog, 21 June 2017

Johnson, Ben (2018), Libraries in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, InfoToday, January/February

Mulgan, Geoff (2018), AI for Good: Is It for Real?, nesta blog, 23 July 2018

Snow, Jackie (2017), Bias already exists in search engine results and it’s only going to get worse, MIT Technology Review, 26 February 2018

Tay, Aaron (2017), How libraries might change when AI, machine learning, open data, block chain & other technologies are the norm, blog, 9 April 2017